Why people living in a Black N.S. community are calling for ‘respect,’ better infrastructure

In the small community of Lucasville, N.S., there’s growing concern around road safety, as mass development in recent years responds to the province’s population boom.

The historic African Nova Scotian settlement, which was established nearly 200 years ago, still has descendants living there today who are feeling the congestion as the community grows around them.

“We can’t get out of our driveways in the morning,” said lifelong Lucasville resident Deborah Emmerson.

“There’s 10,000 cars and when 10,000 people are going through a community that they have no connection with, no respect for, they could care less if you’re sitting there for half an hour.”

Emmerson lives on Lucasville Road, a busy street that runs through the middle of Lucasville and sees thousands of cars commuting to Hammonds Plains and Sackville everyday.

“It’s become a cut-through road — people trying to cut through from Sackville to the Tantallon area,” said area councillor Lisa Blackburn.

She said the level of traffic on the road isn’t something that city staff ever really anticipated, and that it puts extra pressure on the road’s infrastructure.

Click to play video: 'Lucasville residents asking HRM to improve road safety'

Lucasville residents asking HRM to improve road safety

With no sidewalks on the road’s low shoulders and a lack of transit to the area, safety is a growing problem for residents.

“Since I was young, we were promised we were going to get sidewalks, and now I’m almost 40 years old and we still don’t have them,” said Lucasville resident Devon Parsons.

“We just don’t have the things that we should have for this amount of vehicles coming through this road.”

The father of two says he and his wife worry for their children’s safety. They don’t even let them play in the front yard due to its proximity to the busy roadway.

“We don’t even trick or treat in Lucasville, which is kind of a shame,” Parsons said. “I can’t send my kids to get mail from the mailbox without going with them. I can’t send them across the street to the store. And that’s just because of the traffic in Lucasville and because we don’t have sidewalks.”

Coun. Blackburn agrees the community needs infrastructure — but so do many HRM communities. And a long waitlist means a lengthy wait time.

“The challenge that we have is, there’s some 600-plus roads that are on the list to get sidewalks in HRM,” said Blackburn. “And when, budget-wise and staff work-wise, you can only put in maybe 10, 11, 12 of them per year, it’s going to take forever to tick off that 600 on the list.”

Halifax Transit bus access is available in Hammonds Plains and Sackville, but skips the Lucasville area — meaning residents must walk along the road’s low, gravel shoulder to get to routes.

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In addition to sidewalks, the community has been fighting for access to transit along Lucasville Road for years.

While Halifax Transit currently operates in Hammonds Plains and Sackville, it skips the more than seven-kilometre stretch of Lucasville Road.

Iris Drummond, a resident of Lucasville for 46 years, says there’s “no reason” why there can’t be bus service in the area.

She said she wants residents to be able to enjoy the services that other communities do through access to buses.

“Yes, we know that we are going to develop, because that’s growing,” Drummond said. “We are going to have growth, but all we ask is for respect.”

‘Our community should be informed’

In the meantime, hundreds of units of housing development are being approved for the Lucasville area, leaving residents worried about what future congestion the projects will bring without updated services and infrastructure in place.

“If changes are going to be made, our community should be informed,” said Emmerson.

She advocates on the Lucasville Community Association, alongside the organization’s chair Debra Lucas.

“Everything seems to be coming in the back door, we’re not notified of what’s going on,” said Lucas. “We’re always the last to know and we shouldn’t be.”

Residents of Lucasville are calling for sidewalks along Lucasville Road, as well as transit service.

Megan King/Global News

Parsons and other members of the community association are asking for community consultation before developers break ground.

“Developers aren’t coming to Lucasville because they want to enrich the community, they’re coming because they can see that they can make millions of dollars,” said Parsons.

“I understand that from a business perspective, but the government has to be there to protect the community and they have to be the ones to say, ‘If you’re going to come into this community and build this many units, you need to improve this community by doing these things.’”

Emmerson says the community just wants to be respected, as they’ve always had pride in how Lucasville has established, grown, and survived all these years.

“Years ago, we couldn’t even get anybody to come out to this community because, ‘You’re an African Nova Scotian community, you’re out in the outskirts, you’re on your own,’” said Emmerson. “And so, we do feel that sting, that now that they see value … people want to come build here.”

Deborah Emmerson, Debra Lucas, Devon Parsons and Iris Drummond (left to right) are part of the Lucasville Community Association, asking for consultation with developers before construction of new buildings is done in Lucasville, N.S.

Megan King / Global News

Coun. Blackburn joins the call for developers to communicate with area residents, saying the opinions of legacy residents in a community with a rich history like Lucasville should be taken into consideration when making planning and developing decisions.

“It’s one of the few places in HRM where you can go to the community and people are living in the same house that their great-grandparents built. You just don’t get that anymore,” said Blackburn.

“There’s no community consultation that’s required and I see that as problematic because of the historical nature of Lucasville.”

Improving safety with greenway project

In a grassroots effort to improve safety and accessibility for the community, Lucasville residents formed the Lucasville Greenway Society (LGS).

Established in 2018, the group came together to ask HRM to improve road safety through the construction of a greenway project — a multi-use pathway that would be faster to install than a sidewalk and could connect Lucasville to the surrounding communities.

“The only way to get in and out of Lucasville is with a vehicle right now,” stated LGS executive director John Young.

“We continue to fight for transit in the community, but that seems like it’s several years off. What (a greenway) would do is solve the problem of people safely getting in and out of Lucasville.”

Lucasville Greenway Society Executive Director John Young is working towards the greenway project as a faster alternative to sidewalks.

Megan King / Global News

LGS chair Leanne Lucas agrees, saying that having a reliable link for everyone to be able to travel to services unavailable in the community is important.

“If you want something for your community, you have to advocate for it,” said Lucas. “Otherwise, no one is just going to come along and just plunk a trail down or give you transit.”

Through years of fundraising and advocacy, the group got the attention of HRM staff who are now working to make the greenway project a reality.

“They came to us and said, you know, the nature of their community and the road has changed,” said HRM active transportation manager David MacIsaac.

“As the growth has happened around them and on either end, they’re experiencing more traffic, faster traffic and more trucks. And that just makes it much less inviting and safe for people in the community to actually walk anywhere on that corridor.”

He added that bus stops could very easily be added to their greenway project design if a Halifax Transit route was approved for Lucasville.

However, MacIsaac said the city needs to consult with the residents to see how willing they would be to pay a slightly higher tax rate. If they are, HRM will be in the position to start building the greenway in the next two to three years.

The 2.4-kilometre pathway would allow access to Sackville amenities like grocery stores and pharmacies for pedestrians and cyclists. The project’s first phase would see a three-metre-wide asphalt surface constructed from the Wallace Lucas Community Centre to the Old Sackville Road.

Eventually, they aim to put up signs along the pathway to teach people about the historic significance of the area.

Young, the LGS executive director, said this kind of education will help keep Lucasville’s history alive, even as the population changes.

“These developments, when they come in, they’re going to represent or look like the new residents that are coming in here,” he said. “So, without that knowledge of what the history is, then the community tends to fall away to the wayside.”

“That area has been, quite frankly, ignored for a very long time,” said Pam Lovelace, councillor for the neighbouring community.

“With more development coming in Lucasville and in Hammonds Plains, it really is high time that we focus on creating safer infrastructure for pedestrians, cyclists and of course for vehicles and Halifax Transit buses.”

Lucasville, and the challenges its residents are facing, will be the focus of an upcoming documentary by filmmaker Sobaz Benjamin, in partnership with the Lucasville Greenway Society.

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