'It’s going to be an accident': Sidewalk users in Halifax frustrated by construction closures

Everywhere you turn in Halifax this summer it seems you run into a construction site, and along with it, sidewalks that turn into dead ends.

For pedestrians, those dead ends are leading to safety concerns.

Carl Myers lives near a construction site and says navigating the maze of orange cones and detour signs on Bayers Road is a challenge for anyone, let alone users with mobility challenges.

"You’re very often faced with sidewalks that end, and in unsafe areas where you have to cross," he says. "You’re sometimes faced with a sign in the middle of the sidewalk."

The project on Bayers Road, between Vaughan and Connaught avenues, is a multi-phase project to improve the flow of traffic and transit in the area.

Myers believes pedestrians are being sidelined in the meantime.

"We often hear that the city wishes us to walk more,” says Myers. “So you would assume that the safety needs and convenience of those that participate in walking and cycling would be considered at least equally to people that drive."

Further down the road, where Bayers Road meets Young Street, a private development means another sidewalk shutdown.

When construction signs first went up, pedestrian Milena Khazanavicius didn’t realize the sidewalk was closed until she literally couldn’t go any further. That’s because she’s completely blind and uses a guide dog.

She had to work her way back to find an alternate and safe route to her neighborhood grocery store.

"This isn’t just about me, because I’m completely blind and I have a guide dog," she says. "This is about people who are elderly, parents with strollers, jumping across Young Street."

"It’s going to be an accident," she adds.

Khazanavicius says she’s shared her concerns with the city over the past three weeks and has been told the municipality is looking into it.

An administrative order adopted by Halifax Regional Council last February requires companies operating construction sites within five metres of municipal property or municipal rights-of-way must submit a construction management plan for city staff to review.

It is intended to include plans for mitigating the site’s impact on pedestrians. The city posts current plans with sidewalk closures online.

The placement of construction signage is supposed to follow guidelines in the Nova Scotia Traffic Control Manual.

A spokesperson for the city says any complaints or concerns received by the municipality regarding a specific site will be investigated as soon as possible.

But Maggie-Jane Spray says there are many factors at play.

"In all of these situations, every type of user has to be considered," she said. "If it’s transit, pedestrian, cyclist, vehicle, as well as the construction work on-site, ensuring that the safety of all those users is maintained as much as possible.”

But some sidewalk users say they don’t feel safe walking near construction sites in the city.

"There should always be a safe way for pedestrians to get around a site," says Janet Brush, 74.

"Every site should either arrange their business so the sidewalk is free, or they should have to put up a pedestrian safe walkway."

Such a walkway, constructed with concrete bollards, is in place on Quinpool Road.

Khazanavicius has advice for city staff involved in assessing sites like the one on Young Street.

"Park your vehicle, and I want you to walk."

She says that's the only way to experience the city – and its challenges – like she and other sidewalk users do every day.