The city alerted drivers to the no-car rule on Spring Garden with the minimum amount of signage provincial regulations allow, and no changes to stop lights.

Plan for car-free Spring Garden Road crashed hard at launch but will be back soon

“This was a very high-profile failure,” says councillor Waye Mason, “but it doesn't mean the idea is wrong and we shouldn't be trying.”

Last week, a stretch of Spring Garden Road became a bus-and-bike-only corridor. It was a pilot project—supposed to run until next June—that shut down the street to personal vehicles from 7am to 8pm every day. The closure started Monday, July 4; the city put up new signs warning drivers away from the road, and police officers were onsite handing out informational pamphlets to confused drivers who continued to use it anyway. Police were there a lot during the first few days of the project, but the city seemed confident the kinks would work themselves out as time went on.

The pilot had a whole year left to work anyway, and it was approved back in December, meaning there was plenty of time to prepare. But then on Friday, the city decided to pause the pilot project and reassess. The signs disappeared as quickly as they had appeared. Spring Garden returned to its old, traffic-jammed self. Was the car-free Spring Garden a figment of our imagination?

“Over the last week, we were monitoring the compliance and implementation of the project and finding that the outcomes we had hoped for just weren't being realized, and determined that we would need to identify some new tactics,” says Elora Wilkinson, a principal planner for the city, in an interview this week with The Coast. The old tactics, as described by Wilkinson, “we looked at kind of the cheapest, quickest tactics that we could, the least amount of physical infrastructure changes to the streets. So that relied heavily on signage, police education and enforcement.” There were no changes to the traffic lights on the street.

Wilkinson says people driving on Spring Garden weren’t noticing the new signage. “The reason it didn't work, in my opinion, is just that it wasn't clear enough. Our communication tactics just weren't visible, bold enough for how busy the area is.”

Downtown councillor Waye Mason agrees, saying the signage was inadequate. “It's all fine and good to have a sign with the lights,” he says, “but most people are just gonna see the green light and they're gonna go.” He adds that city staff put the minimum amount of signs allowed under provincial regulations, and that similar signs at Vernon Street and Jubilee Road aren’t very effective either.

Mason says the biggest misstep with the rollout was assuming people would be aware that the pilot was happening at all. “The fact is, the majority of residents aren't on Twitter, and don't read the paper, and don't watch the news and had no idea anything changed at all except for that little sign.

“So clearly, the big lesson learned here is you've got to really have a plan to communicate to people—most of whom the first time they're going to hear about this is when they see the sign on the street.”

click to enlarge Plan for car-free Spring Garden Road crashed hard at launch but will be back soon
Logan Attwood
Frustrated citizen Logan Attwood put a pylon on the street, and estimates it drove compliance to 90%.

Now the city is back to the drawing board, coming up with what Wilkinson calls a “more fulsome rollout.” Putting the project on hold, rather than keep it running while making changes, is to avoid confusion, Wilkinson says. The second kick at the can, which could be ready in a matter of weeks, will likely be an “intensification” of the original plan, she says: more signs in better locations, and more education. The city is also considering traffic signals and physical infrastructure. Anything that’ll make sure there’s “no question for drivers” about what they have to do.

“You're gonna have things that don't work as well as you thought. You're gonna have things that are failures. This was a very high-profile failure at this point, but it doesn't mean the idea is wrong and we shouldn't be trying,” Mason says. “And now we’ve learned to never do it that way again if we do this kind of thing somewhere else.”

Wilkinson assures that the dreams of a bus-only Spring Garden aren’t dead yet. “We're definitely not walking away from this idea quite yet. We just need a bit more time to evaluate and figure out what might be next,” she says.

“It's a good thing that we are trying something new. We're pushing the envelope on what we can do for new streets and pedestrian spaces, and we want to make sure that we get it right and we implement it properly. It is always disappointing to roll something out and have it kind of step back so quickly. But I think overall, it's still a good thing that we're trying this.”

About The Author

Kaija Jussinoja

Kaija Jussinoja is a news reporter at The Coast, where she covers the stories that make Halifax the weird and wonderful place we call home. She is originally from North Vancouver, BC and graduated from the University of King’s College in 2022. Jussinoja joined The Coast in May 2022 after interning at The Chronicle...

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