community opinion

How can HRM get people *on* the streets?

SWitch HCC

Closed to cars. Open to people.

By Kate Watson

Switch Open Street Sundays is an amazing community event.  By closing certain streets to cars for an afternoon, it opens our eyes to alternate ways to get around, it brings new customers to local businesses and it gets us out interacting with our friends and neighbours. Plus, it’s just plain fun!

As a steering committee member and volunteer with Switch since its beginning in 2012, one of the comments I’ve heard over and over is, “Why can’t this happen more often?”

The short answer is “cost” – the city charges more than $10,000 for the street closures and policing.

But the longer answer is that there’s no reason why events like Switch can’t happen more often, IF HRM steps up to reduce those costs by:

  1. Working with the province to change the motor vehicle act so that trained volunteers can be used instead of police at intersections
  2. Offering multi-year funding to the event, which is currently funded through in-kind donations, sponsorship and grants that are secured by Dalhousie’s Planning and Design Centre.

This issue of the high cost of street closures is also rearing its head with regards to a street party planned for Downtown Dartmouth this fall.

On September 22nd, Portland Street will be closed to cars from Alderney to King from 6pm to 9pm for a street party that will include vendors, food and music.

The original plan was to close Portland for an extra two blocks to Wentworth Street, but it turns out that isn’t possible.

Why? The costs were too high.

We have spent decades prioritizing motor vehicles on our public streets. I think government needs to support opportunities that recognize streets are not just corridors for travel, but public spaces that support active, healthy communities.