'This is a really substantial change': Bumpy first day for 'buses only' on busy Halifax street

From his favorite coffee spot on Spring Garden Road - George Gillmore appreciates the efforts to make the street quieter.

But on day one, he's not sure those efforts are working, after spending two hours watching cars and trucks traverse the normally busy thoroughfare.

"They said no cars are coming up Spring Garden, but they are," says Gillmore. "So I just sit here and go, 'what's happening?'"he chuckles.

Apart from new traffic signs and two Halifax Regional Police officers posted at the intersections at Queen and South Park Streets, there were few other indications to drivers of the change on Monday.

As of July 4th, only municipal buses and bicycles are allowed on Spring Garden Road between 7 a.m., and 8 p.m., daily. Emergency vehicles are also permitted.

"HRP will be coming and going from the street," says Elora Wilkinson. "We're trying to find what the right balance is of resources."

Early in the day, Halifax officers were kept busy directing traffic, but they left by mid-afternoon.

Without any officials directing traffic, personal vehicles, taxis, and delivery vans returned to Spring Garden Road in short order, seemingly unaware of the new rules for the road.

Wilkinson says changing traffic habits will take time.

"This is a really substantial change," she says. "So it's going to take a little while for word to get out for people to understand what the new rules are and make adjustments to that."

Wilkinson says education is the main focus for both the city and police to start. She says fines for drivers who don’t heed the signs may come later, depending on how well residents adapt.

"I don't want to have regional police down here on traffic control every day, that’s a waste of police resources," says Sue Utek, executive director of the Spring Garden Area Business Association.

Utek says the association did highlight the upcoming changes to residents through a radio campaign and the distribution of flyers, but she still noticed a number of challenges come up on the first day.

Among them, she says, is trying to find a way to allow garbage collection on the street, since noisy trucks can't operate before 7 a.m., and then aren't allowed on the street after 7 a.m.

"The noise bylaw prevents solid waste garbage trucks from picking up here on Spring Garden [Road], so that's become an immediate issue for us this morning," says Utek.

Wilkinson says garbage collectors can use a trolley to collect garbage and take it to side streets where trucks are allowed to park for pick-ups and deliveries, a change that took effect last year.

"It would be similar to what they were doing last year during construction when the street was closed," she says.

After surviving pandemic shutdowns, continuing construction in the area, and current staffing shortages, long-time Spring Garden Road business co-owner Kurt Bulger is worried the change could keep customers away.

Bulger says he’ll know for sure in a few months, when he can compare sales figures for his independent store, Jennifer’s of Nova Scotia.

"Through the pandemic, it was borne out that 70 per cent of our business is locals. Now the tourists are back in town, so if we do 30 per cent of our business it means the locals are not coming down like they used to," says Bulger.

It’s a potential effect on his business’ bottom line that he hopes he doesn’t happen.

The changes to Spring Garden Road are in effect until 2023, but after the first six months the project will be evaluated with input from local businesses, pedestrians, and transit users.