So much has changed in the last four weeks. We are adjusting to keep serving our community. These three changes are top of mind:
- lack of safe outdoor space for people to walk in their neighbourhoods
- an upswing in people using bikes for essential transportation and recreation
- major challenges for our small businesses
Sidewalks are too narrow to allow for 2m social distancing, forcing people onto the street to avoid coming in contact with others. More people are using bikes to get around, creating a greater need for safe places to ride. Businesses have been forced to close or drastically reduce their operations. While we could write a much longer list of troubles people are facing, the Halifax Cycling Coalition can work to address these three issues.
Safe Places for People to Walk & Bike
The way our streets are used has changed dramatically with many people working from home. There are fewer cars on the road and folks are not traveling outside of their immediate neighbourhoods often.
Essential workers still need to get to work. Some travel needs have not decreased, but transit services have decreased. There are also real concerns about coming into contact with the coronavirus on public transit. Many people cannot afford to drive a car, especially if they are making low wages at the grocery store. Assuming that people can drive ignores inequities in access to private vehicles. These workers and others are pulling their bikes out of the shed to get where they need to go due to reduced transit service, a lack of access to a vehicle, and because cycling provides many benefits to riders.
All of the benefits of cycling (ie: affordability, ease of repair, lack of emissions, mental health benefits, physical health benefits, etc.), are amplified during this crisis. Cycling is also a safe way to get around while physically distancing from other folks. People around the world are taking up cycling as their preferred mode of travel during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Residents still need to get essentials and get outside for fresh air. With parks being closed, people need extra space to walk and bike. We submitted a joint letter with other stakeholders on March 27th, requesting that Halifax Regional Council temporarily re-allocate some space on our urban streets for people walking and cycling. The changes we proposed would keep people safe from cars, and allow for social distancing. We also want HRM to deactivate pedestrian “beg buttons” at intersections. Having to touch the buttons in order to cross the street is not in alignment with current public health needs. Changes should be made immediately and remain in place until the COVID-19 outbreak has resolved and social distancing is no longer necessary.
Councillor Shawn Cleary made a notice of motion for the April 28 council meeting to reallocate street space for walking & cycling temporarily during the COVID-19 outbreak. The notice of motion reads as follows:
NOTICE OF MOTION
Take notice that at the next meeting of Halifax Regional Council to be held on April 28, 2020, I intend to move the following:
That Halifax Regional Council request an expedited staff report on providing safe mobility through an inexpensive, tactical, and temporary installation of bike lanes and active transportation routes along the lines of the already approved minimum grid network in the Integrated Mobility Plan or nearby, easily implemented streets.
If this is important to you, write your councillor and let them know! Here is a letter template that you can use a starting point. You can look up your councillor here. We encourage you to incorporate your own perspective and experience in your letter. Please cc us when you send it at firstname.lastname@example.org
Supporting Small Businesses
In addition to the temporary changes needed to our streets, we need to support our locally owned businesses now more than ever. Small businesses are part of what makes our city so special. We have been inspired by businesses in Halifax coming up with creative solutions to reach customers. From putting together online shopping platforms at record speed to delivering products to our doorsteps by bicycle, our small businesses are showing up for us in really big ways. Many businesses are suffering from severely decreased sales and the stress of existing during this time. Some local shops may not make it through the COVID-19 related closure. We want to help make sure our businesses survive.
We will share stories of bike shops that are offering sales and service, or other types of businesses delivering products by bike! Please fill out our online form to let us know what your business is doing. We will share your information through our social media, newsletter, and/or our website.
Our thoughts are with our community during this public health state of emergency. We are thinking of ways to support you and advocate for safe ways for people to travel by bike during the coronavirus outbreak.