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Black in Halifax: Tristan Cleveland argues East Preston's roads unsafe to walk on

Too many roads throughout East Preston lack any shoulder to walk on, so people have to walk in the travel lane, sometimes on blind corners.

Highway 7 near East Preston, where Metro's columnist argues speed limits should be lowered and shoulders paved to make it safer to walk.

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Highway 7 near East Preston, where Metro's columnist argues speed limits should be lowered and shoulders paved to make it safer to walk.

It would be easy to assume East Preston is the kind of place where driving is the only realistic option. It is a low-density rural community whose church, school, daycare, corner store and rec centre are all far apart.

And yet, back in the 1970’s, people did walk there, all the time, and residents would like it to be that way again.

“Well it was nice because you could stop and talk to people,” one long-time resident told me, who preferred not to have her name used.

“We walked everywhere. We all walked to each other to play. Adults walked along the way, because there were a lot of stores. People visited more. It was more community.”

What changed is little mystery. In every decision on road design, the government has systematically under-prioritized the safety and comfort of people spending time outside on foot.

Try Do, a collaborative of organizations,is working to fix that. They are conducting a series of walks with the community to audit everything on the street that supports or discourages walking. I had the privilege of taking part in one.

It was obvious why people enjoyed walking here, along forested homes on a small river valley with a stream and a white church at its centre.

But the barriers were obvious as well. Too many roads throughout East Preston lack any shoulder to walk on, so people have to walk in the travel lane, sometimes on blind corners.

A bridge at the centre of the community was built with absolutely no space for people on foot, so the only option is to step into the path of high-speed cars.

The elementary school lacks a crosswalk. I don’t understand how a school gets built without inserting a way for kids to get across the road.

Part of East Preston is on Highway 7. The limit for most of it is 70 km/h, a speed at which 57 per cent of people will die if struck by a car.

The road, like ones throughout the province, is designed by standards that assume its primary purpose is moving cars through fast, even when it is in the centre of a community.

If a neighbourhood were a living room, the road is its floor, how you get from the table to the chairs. Building codes require floors to be safe to walk on because our society is not crazy. Provincial standards require roads to be unsafe to walk on because our society is crazy.

In a critical sense, a community is the road. It is the physical place between home, the church, the school. Making the world between destinations unsafe undermines not only walking, but living, lingering, playing, talking.

For East Preston, a good way to start fixing this problem would be to slow speed limits to a level that do not threaten to kill, and to maintain the shoulder for every section of road at a standard that treats it as a kind of sidewalk.

Too often we assume that the amount residents drive in rural areas is a predetermined quantity. East Preston shows that for a beautiful rural neighbourhood, many will happily choose to walk quite a distance, until road-design makes that a frightening thing to do.

Let’s support this community in getting what everyone should have, the freedom to walk safely outside.

This story is part of Metro's ongoing Black in Halifax series. Let us know your thoughts on the series, and share your own stories using the hashtag #HalifaxWhileBlack with tweets, Instagram posts and Facebook comments. We may just share it in a future edition.

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