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Halifax councillor pitches restrictions on right turns at red lights

A taxi turns right Monday on a red light on Hollis Street in Halifax. RYAN TAPLIN
A taxi turns right Monday on a red light on Hollis Street in Halifax. RYAN TAPLIN - Ryan Taplin

A municipal councillor thinks a right turn for the municipality would be to eliminate right turns on red lights at many busy street corners.

“My motion is quite broad so it could be everywhere in the municipality to maybe just the urban core or maybe we just look at problem intersections or intersections that have a high concentration of pedestrians,” Coun. Shawn Cleary (Halifax West-Armdale) said of his motion last week before the transportation committee.

Cleary requested a staff report to assess the “potential benefits to vulnerable users” of restricting right turns on red lights. The motion pointed out the latest monthly reporting on pedestrian-vehicle collisions in the municipality show that approximately 19.5 per cent involve a right-turn movement and that restricting right turns would give pedestrians priority at intersection crosswalks.

The monthly reporting also showed that 46 per cent of vehicle-pedestrian collisions at intersections involve no vehicle turning.

The motion passed and Cleary expects the research-intensive staff report to take six months to a year to complete.

“Staff can look at anything they want, whatever they think will make streets safer,” Cleary said. “There are too many pedestrian-vehicle collisions, period.”

Cleary said most European cities and Montreal, on the city's island, already have such bans. Cleary said the timing of lights can be changed to make a right-turn-on-red ban less problematic. Intersection scrambles could also be instituted at busy pedestrian intersections, he said, forcing all traffic to come to a stop and allowing pedestrians to go in any direction they want across the intersection. Then the lights change and vehicles have exclusive right of way.

It may take six months to a year for HRM staff to come back to council with a report on the idea of banning vehicles from turning right on red lights in at least part of Halifax.
It may take six months to a year for HRM staff to come back to council with a report on the idea of banning vehicles from turning right on red lights in at least part of Halifax.

Cleary said the goal of the municipality’s strategic road safety framework is to eventually reduce deaths on the roadways to zero. Part of that is the leading pedestrian interval signals now utilized at a number of HRM intersections that give pedestrians a five- to eight-second walk signal while the opposite traffic light remains red.

The mayor of Beaconsfield, which is southwest of downtown Montreal, said a coalition of like-minded suburban mayors pushed hard last year to have the ban on right turns on red lights lifted on the island of Montreal. With municipal reorganization in the early 2000s, suburbs were merged into the city of Montreal as boroughs, each with their own mayor and council who have a voice in the amalgamated municipality.

“Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we are going to be able to get much attention to what we think would be the right thing to do,” Mayor Georges Bourelle said of reversing the right-turn prohibition.

Bourelle said the lobby of cyclists and pedestrians in the downtown core has muted public support in the suburbs and on the island for change.

“They raise the issue that this would affect the security at the intersection where this would be allowed,” Bourelle said. “What we were suggesting was not a right turn on red at every possible intersection because, yes, there are certain sections especially in the core of the city where it would not make much sense to do it.

“We were saying that there are a lot of intersections on the island of Montreal and certainly in the suburbs where it would make a lot of sense and it would have a benefit in terms of the pollution that is created by cars standing still at intersections where they could turn and also it would save time.

“We made all these arguments and we got support from a lot of people.”

Bourelle said the right-turn ban can be confusing.

“People living off the island and tourists coming in from the U.S. and other provinces, it is very confusing for them,” he said. “People come into Montreal and if they are not aware that Montreal is different, they will turn on red, not because they want to break the law but because they are unfamiliar that Montreal is an exception.”

He said changing the ban and a co-ordination of traffic lights would improve the flow of traffic and even make it safer for pedestrians “because now pedestrians do fight with cars on green lights.”

Cleary said congested traffic, managed properly, can lead people to look for alternative modes of transportation that will cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. If drivers stopped at a light see buses, cyclists and pedestrians moving faster, they will consider that mode of travel, he said.

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