Cyclists and pedestrians in Halifax can look forward to safer trips around the city through a $25-million funding initiative aimed at expanding and refurbishing 30 kilometres of pathways.
Mayor Mike Savage said the green initiative announced Monday is part of a plan to shift 30 per cent of residents out of cars and toward walking, cycling and public transit by 2031.
“Cities that care about the environment and the everyday activities that help make residents healthier, happier and connected are places that draw and keep residents,” Savage said.
Ottawa will contribute $12.5 million, while the province is providing $8.25 million and the city is adding $4.25 million.
The project will be accelerated over the next three years and create a system linking all corners of the city from north to south and east to west.
Canada Bikes chairman Anders Swanson said the announcement was “excellent news for Halifax.”
“There’s a lot retrofitting to do and a lot of work to get done to create completed works in cities around Canada, so that’s good news for everyone,” the Winnipeg-based head of the cycling advocacy group said.
Still, the investment represents just a beginning, he said, noting that a coalition of health and transport groups is calling on Ottawa to invest at least $690 million annually to make cycling and walking paths safer.
Swanson said a Statistics Canada study has shown that there is an appetite to switch from cars to other modes of transportation, such as bicycling.
“Just think of 3.5 million Canadians already living in the densely populated areas, travelling alone, stuck in traffic, in short-distance commutes of eight kilometres or less,” he said. “The vast majority of them, in nearly every study we’ve seen, say they’d prefer to bike instead if they could.”
Swanson said more riders would also be better news for the environment.
He said Canada is in the midst of a fundamental shift in terms of how it looks at transportation but has a long way to go before it catches up to countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands.
David MacIsaac, supervisor of active transportation for the Halifax Regional Municipality, said the city doesn’t know how much bicycle ridership will increase, but other cities offer a clue.
“Our best evidence is looking around to other jurisdictions like Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto,” MacIsaac said. “When they add in the safer, more protected infrastructure, the number of cyclists increases significantly.”
According to the City of Calgary’s website, bicycle ridership shot up 40 per cent when a pilot project was made permanent in 2016 that installed 6.5 kilometres of protected “cycle tracks” in the city’s downtown.
The cycle tracks are described as a bike lane that is protected by a physical barrier from moving cars, parked cars and sidewalks.
MacIsaac said much of the work in Halifax would go toward refurbishing existing bike lanes in order to make them safer.
He said part of the project would also see a safer connection to the city’s Angus L. MacDonald bridge, which spans Halifax Harbour, through 3.5 kilometres of on-road bikeways.
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