When city council voted against a pause in progress on the Chebucto Road widening scheme, Steve Bedard was one of the most solemn-faced citizens leaving city hall—and he doesn't even live on Chebucto Road.
The ongoing battle between residents of Chebucto Road and the city sparked Bedard's interest just a few months ago, eventually leading him to organize Tuesday's rally outside city hall. The Dalhousie nursing student is the writer behind a new Facebook group called Leaf that discusses the environmental issues plaguing the province, the road widening being one of them. He saw the rally as his opportunity to make some noise on the issue and contribute to the cause.
"It's just really an instance where city hall has just bullied a whole neighborhood into this project that really is just absolutely worthless," he says.
But the road-widening isn't just an issue for Chebucto Road anymore—3,000 signatures and the city hall rally speak to that. The community supporting the fight against the project is certainly wider than the seven directly affected households. Grand Parade saw more than 60 passionate but patient protesters before the council meeting on Tuesday night. Arriving on foot and bicycle, the group was bundled up in yellow attire and included seniors and toddlers.
Protesters circled the parade square on their bikes, clutching the same yellow signs that now line Chebucto Road, and linking arm in arm. The collection of voices were making up chants and even singing Joni Mitchell lyrics: "...they paved paradise and put up a parking lot."
"City hall has to start thinking outside the box," says Bedard. "We have a traffic problem, for sure, and we're not going to solve this problem by adding more cars on to the road. Looking into active transport infrastructure has really worked for a lot of cities...why not move towards that while Halifax is still growing?"
While this was Steve Bedard's first time seeing the councillors face off on the issue, it was a familiar argument for Chebucto resident Kevin Moynihan. He joined his neighbours in the rally and sat hopeful as the council debated the issue. "To make all the mistakes they made in other North American cities 20 or 30 years ago, to put highways in from the suburbs, in my mind doesn't make any sense at all. I mean, what we have learned from all those cities that destroyed their downtown?" says Moynihan. If the proposed year-long stall on the widening passed, the Chebucto Neighbourhood Association, including Moynihan, hoped to use the time to meet with the planning committee and engineers to explore alternatives to the project.
Bedard sees the issue from both environmental and health-related perspectives. "The province put out all these grandiose plans to be the forefront province in Canada to get rid of greenhouse gases and now they want to get more cars on the road. It's like they've done a 180 on what they said they wanted to do." As a nursing student, he believes it is important to have less automobile traffic not only for the sake of air quality, but also for the physical well-being of Nova Scotians. The risks of obesity, type-two diabetes and heart disease can't be ignored. "We have to get people out of cars and onto bikes, into running shoes and rollerblades," he says.
Though the crowd dwindled as the council meeting pushed on into the night, when it came time for councillor Sheila Fougere to bring the issue forward, the public seating in council chambers was filled with an audience clad in yellow. When the 13 to nine vote against a moratorium was revealed, the residents and supporters quietly shuffled out of the chambers. The exhausted remainder of the CNA members, other supporters and Steve Bedard exchanged hugs, apologies and words of encouragement. Councillor Fougere, who saw herself as "their best last hope," wiped away tears as she talked with members of the neighborhood.
"There's just such a disconnection right now between council and community. This is essentially a community project, but the way city council is approaching it is not involving the city in any of the process, which is just wrong," says Bedard, who hopes that the battle for the Chebucto neighbourhood will carry on.
"Democracy is hard work," says Moynihan.
He and his neighbours aren't down for the count, though. The city must now negotiate to acquire property from the affected homeowners through the process of expropriation.
Moynihan says residents will now explore legal options to try and protect their land.