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Why Switch: Open Street Sundays should be a weekly event
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I adore Switch: Open Street Sundays.
When Switch closes a road to cars for an afternoon, as it did this past Sunday in Dartmouth, it opens up the street to so much more: Thousands of people walking, riding and rolling freely and safely.
Businesses spilling onto sidewalks or popping up mid-street. Musicians and artists animating the city.
And neighbours, so many of your neighbours, out on the street where you can meet them.
Naturally, I adore it. But I want more.
Switch: Open Street Sundays should be a weekly event that creates dozens of kilometres of car-free routes throughout Halifax every Sunday afternoon.
Switch season should start on Victoria Day and stretch to Labour Day. It should connect residential areas with popular summer destinations like Point Pleasant Park or the waterfront.
It should be predictable and reliable. Drivers should expect it, and people using other modes should rely on it.
Switch should signify summer to Haligonians, and it should shape the way we get around for the season.
But instead of expanding Switch to meet this potential, I’m afraid the city of Halifax is going to kill it off because of high costs.
Sunday festivities cost a whopping $11,000. Why? Because that’s how much the city charges to close a street and pay police to be there for four hours.
Although Switch organizers have a veritable army of enthusiastic volunteers, the city will not be training them to be able to close off streets or redirect Sunday traffic.
Never mind that I cycle and drive daily past construction workers directing cars and trucks around partially closed roads.
Never mind that I routinely cross busy streets where crossing guards are responsible for ensuring the safety of school-aged kids.
Switch is in its fourth year. This fall, if approved, the route could be expanded to include Spring Garden Road and Barrington Street, at the request of the business commissions in those areas. But organizers have been discussing the possibility that September’s Switch could be our last.
“We believe in this event,” organizer Sarah Ravlic told me, “but if it’s going to cost what it costs, we unfortunately just can’t keep doing that.”
It’s time for Halifax policy-makers to figure this out. Stop pricing street closures out of business. Let us have our Open Street Sundays.
Erica Butler lives in Halifax and uses transit, a car and a bicycle to get around the city. You can follow her on Twitter at @HabitatRadio.