The final week of November 2021 saw temperatures rise and fall in Nova Scotia. It brought snow, then rain, then wind. That week, the province opened youth vaccine registration and announced a few COVID cases. But contained in the span of those seven days were also two pedestrian deaths.
“It’s really horrific, the last month in particular,” says Martyn Williams, who has been advocating for pedestrian safety for six years.
The first was on Pleasant Street in Dartmouth. It was a car at a marked crosswalk. That was Wednesday morning, November 24. Just two days later, on Friday evening, another pedestrian was struck by a vehicle on Sylvia Avenue in Spryfield.
Explaining the apartment-laden area for the unfamiliar, Williams says: “There isn’t a sidewalk on one side of the street... So it’s really putting people at a disadvantage.”
Williams also went to the spot where the Dartmouth pedestrian was struck, and says he “nearly got hit” while there. “It’s extremely dangerous, because it’s like a highway road, there’s no pedestrian refuge island.”
“It kind of confirms what I’ve believed all along, which is that without any substantial changes, then how are we going to reduce incidents?” he tells The Coast in a phone call. “The underlying conditions are still the exact same, so it’s bound to happen again.”
According to Halifax’s own data, there were 78 injuries from Jan to Sep 2021, compared to 57 during the same period in 2020, and 66 during the same period in 2019. Injuries are also becoming more common: in 2021, 85 percent of vehicle-pedestrian collisions resulted in injury, compared to 77 percent in 2020 and 65 percent in 2019.
Certain areas of Halifax are also more problematic than others, such as busy roadways with little traffic calming, and places without marked sidewalks that should have them.
“There are very consistent trends that are not being addressed,” says Williams. “Around 40% of pedestrians are struck at signalized intersections, when they use the double line crosswalks there, nearly all of those are from drivers that are turning left or right on a green or a red light.”
“Streets in particular are not safe for seniors,” Williams explains. Out of the 13 deaths on roads since 2018, only one was younger than 55.
“I always used to think it’s a miracle that more people are not hit and killed,” he says. “So I’m not really surprised when it happens, but obviously really horrified.”
Williams says the main infrastructure solutions he’s advocating for are more signage in advance of crosswalks, pedestrian refuge islands and crosswalks that clearly mark one lane at a time.
“There’s a broken record message that Halifax has been stuck on for a long time: ‘drivers need to take more care, pedestrians need to take more care,'” says Williams. “But if the infrastructure makes mistakes easier, I think it’ll never really improve.”