By Brittany Maguire, News Contributor
In celebration of International Car Free Day on Sept. 22, environmental activists gathered to occupy three parking meters on Grafton Street. Their goal was to raise awareness and demonstrate their commitment to public and active transportation in Halifax.
Robin Tress, the Dalhousie student organizer of the parking spot party, says “Streets should be for people, not just for cars”.
The group occupied three parking meters on Grafton Street with sod donated by a local contractor and a vehicle from CarShareHFX, preventing car users from parking. About 15 students and general public gathered with their bikes and planted themselves on blankets and tables for an afternoon of board games and music on the road.
This collaborated effort between the Ecology Action Centre, SustainDal, and the Environmental Programs Student Society did not go unnoticed. By noon, their peaceful protest had gathered numerous interested bystanders, and the police. A complaint had been made by a public bystander that the protesters were in the way of traffic. Tress insists that they were taking up no more space than any parked car would have.
“The irony of the situation was that we were accused of impeding traffic,” says Tress. “Even though we were in the parking spot out of the traffic lane while the police van was parked in the middle of the roadway during our 15 -20 minute discussion—while idling.”
The police and protesters came to an agreement that the group could continue to occupy the spaces with the sod, bikes and their other belongings but the people would have to remain on the sidewalk to ensure their safety from traffic. Tress maintains that their actions were completely legal.
“The Nova Scotia Motor Vehicle Act includes bicycles in the definition of a vehicle so by parking our bikes on the parking spot and paying the meter we are allowed to leave them there,” she says.
The province of Nova Scotia has set a goal of reducing green house gas emissions to 10 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020. A big piece of this picture is the transportation sector which accounts for 25 per cent of the province’s emissions. According to the 2006 census, 73 per cent of commuter transport in Halifax was done by single occupancy vehicles. The activists argue that this number could be reduced significantly. In order for this to happen the public must use alternative transit more frequently, they say. Simultaneously the HRM must invest in city planning to make public transit more efficient and active transit safer.
The group argues that if the people of Halifax were committed to reducing car use then traffic congestion would decrease and the Metro transit system would become that much more efficient. They also point out that during rush hours, pedestrians and cyclists can get just about anywhere in central Halifaxfasterthanmotorists.
“We want increased use of public and active transportation and a decrease of single occupancy commuter vehicles on the peninsula,” says Tress.
She says that car use in a city such as Halifaxisunnecessary.
“I understand the need for a family vehicle or using a vehicle for occasional trips out of town,” says Tress, “However, if you live or work in the core of Halifax there is no reason your day to day life should depend on a personal vehicle, you can get everywhere easily by walking ortakingthetransit.”
Tress notes that there are obvious streets in Halifax that would benefit significantly from being converted into pedestrian only areas such as Argyle Street and Grafton Street. These side streets are lined with bars, shops and people. Banning cars would increase their sense of community significantly.
“Active transport is being oppressed by cars. Bikers are afraid to bike and streets remain too congested for people” Tress says.