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A jaywalker makes his way across Hastings St. in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside June 6, 2013. Pivot and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) have obtained statistics that show startling discrepancies in the way the Vancouver Police Department is enforcing city bylaws. Statistics on the number of tickets issued for jaywalking and panhandling, obtained through a Freedom of Information request, show that over the last four years 76% of jaywalking and 31% of panhandling tickets were given out in the DTES.John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Increasing the fine for jaywalking in Nova Scotia to nearly $700 is being roundly criticized by active transportation advocates and pedestrians alike.

The legislature passed a bill last week that boosts the fine from $410 to $697.50 – more than the penalty for using a cellphone behind the wheel and well above jaywalking fines in other cities and provinces The penalty for jaywalking ranges from a maximum of $30 in Quebec and $50 in Ontario to $250 in Edmonton.

Nova Scotia officials say the increase in what was already the highest jaywalking fine in the country is intended to create consistency between fines for drivers and pedestrians while also acting as a deterrent.

A member of the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax calls the fine "disproportionate and counterproductive."

"It's a distraction from the real work that needs to be done, which is to design streets that are safer for everybody," said Tristan Cleveland in an interview.

Provincial Transportation Minister Geoff MacLellan said raising the pedestrian fine to a level equivalent with the highest fine for drivers sends the message that road safety is a shared responsibility.

But MacLellan said the government realizes fines alone won't tackle the persistent issue of vehicle-pedestrian collisions, particularly in urban centres.

"By increasing a couple of the categories of fines under our system that's by no way going to solve all of our issues with pedestrian safety," said MacLellan.

He said the legislative changes have to be part of a broader effort to better educate the public about road safety and to examine such things as road engineering in urban corridors where there is heavy pedestrian traffic.

MacLellan said the intent is not to target pedestrians.

"This is about the larger road safety issue," he said. "This conversation will indicate to drivers, to pedestrians to cyclists, to everyone on our roadway that we've got to get serious and it's a shared responsibility."

Vehicle-pedestrian accidents are an ongoing problem in Nova Scotia, and Halifax in particular. Official figures show police had responded to 153 such collisions in the city by the end of October, down from 184 in the same period the year before.

A report compiled by Halifax Regional Police states two of the incidents in 2015 resulted in the death of the pedestrian, though more than three-quarters of the incidents resulted in no injuries. No injuries to drivers were reported.

Of those incidents in which summary offence tickets were issued, 56 were given to drivers and four to pedestrians. No tickets were issued in the other 93 collisions.

Cleveland says there is little evidence that an increase in fines is an effective strategy when it comes to deterring people from jaywalking.

"As far as we can tell, there is no evidence to support that catastrophically huge fines helps save lives," he says. "If anything it decreases the amount police actually issue the tickets."

"You could have a law that's poorly enforced and a few extremely unlucky people. That is not a productive law."

Cleveland says one of the biggest problems with the larger fine is that it deters people from walking and unfairly targets lower-income residents. He's created a Facebook page calling on the province to repeal the bill, replete with opinion, letters that members have written to elected representatives, and links to published studies and articles on pedestrian safety.

"'We all need the streets' is the exact reason we should be treating driving a car as a privilege and a responsibility," said one person who posted on the page. "We shouldn't be fining pedestrians excessively or making barriers to people being able to use active transportation."

Comments on the page show the new bill also has its supporters.

"I personally think that they have raised the cost to get pedestrians to smarten up. It will save their life," wrote another person. "Motorists already receive a harsh penalty if they are in the wrong and the pedestrian should as well."

The RCMP says officers haven't issued a single jaywalking fine in the Halifax area in 2015. The force doesn't track jaywalking statistics for the rest of the province.