Five candidates for mayor wrestled with transportation issues in downtown Halifax during a debate in the auditorium of Citadel High School Monday night.

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The candidates agree something must be done to increase the use of public transporation in Halifax. (CBC)

Debates over road-widening and transit costs have divided municipal council in recent years, but that acrimony was absent during Monday's event.

All the candidates seemed to agree on the need to unify transportation and transit planning in Halifax. They concurred on the need to boost ridership on transit, and to encourage active transportation such as walking and cycling.

Aaron Eisses talked about the potential transit problems posed by thousands of new workers commuting to the Halifax Shipyard. He suggested a new ferry from Shannon Park expressly to move those workers downtown without their cars.

"That would prevent the widening of Bayers Road and Duffus Street," he suggested. "We can help maintain the peninsula in a livable, desirable way."

Candidate Fred Connors agreed that the shipyard workers will change the transportation dynamic in the city.

"They're not going to be condominium dwellers downtown. So there's going to be a lot of F150s coming into the regional centre when we start cutting steel."

'I'm still questioning, I still don't know who I'd support' —Owen Brush, voter

Connors said he wants to send councilors on fact-finding trips to progressive cities around the world so they can learn from the solutions they've adopted. He warned the issue will be compounded when pedestrian and bike lanes are closed the Macdonald bridge is being refurbished.

Candidate Tom Martin said one way to alleviate congestion is to allow water taxis.

"Not only does it keep cars off the peninsula, it opens up the entrepreneurial spirit. It could be a private sector thing," Martin said.

Candidate Mike Savage agreed with many of the solutions. He also suggested an expanded role for bikes.

"If a city like Montreal can put bike lanes in without any detrimental effect, then there's no reason that Halifax can't."

Robert McCormack said he supports investment in expanded ferry service as a less expensive option than an entirely new light rail system from Bedford.

Key issue for audience

The reaction from the audience of about 200 was muted.

"I find that I'm continuously confronted with the threat of cars on the street, and I was interested on who was going to promote bike lanes in the city," said Jude Williams.

"I didn't hear a lot of concrete actions being proposed," said Owen Brush, who said he wasn't won over by anyone. "I'm still questioning, I still don't know who I'd support."

Peter Zimmer agreed that the debate didn't have a clear winner.

"I wasn't blown away by anybody's vision."

The Planning and Design Centre sponsored the debate. The five candidates answered questions prepared by the organizers.