Our City Streets vs COVID-19
OUR CITY STREETS VS COVID
We’re in the midst of an unprecedented crisis.
As car traffic disappears, we’re beginning to realize just how enormous our streets are, built to accommodate private automobile. This leaves very little room for anything else, like walking or biking.
And now, with COVID-19, cities desperately need spaces big enough for people to be able to safely maintain their psychological and physical health outdoors as well as for people who rely on public transit to use bikes as safe alternatives for providing and accessing essential goods and services.
So some cities are using street space in creative and unexpected ways.
GLOBAL CALLS FOR OPEN STREETS
Newspapers, publications, and health & mobility experts are calling for temporary bike networks and open streets for the many reasons covered in our video above.
We’ve compiled some of the numerous articles and letters here:
NEW YORK TIMES
“Staying six feet apart to meet social-distancing guidelines is nearly impossible on most sidewalks, which are typically only four feet wide. So some cities are warming up to the idea that they could temporarily close traffic lanes to accommodate pedestrians — a fix that requires only some road cones or other cheap, easily obtainable barriers.
Urban planners have long argued that more streets should close to make more livable spaces, but governments have always resisted, calling it impractical or impossible. They’ve just proved it can happen — and they should keep it going after the crisis.”
LOS ANGELES TIMES
“Crowded sidewalks are vectors for coronavirus infection. Take streets back from cars and let people use them.
Every city in the world has thousands of miles of public space that is being grossly underused in this crisis: our streets. We should be taking lanes from cars and giving them to people.”
“We can use this time to step back, listen and learn from our communities and companies to determine how we can utilize more inclusive and supportive policies and technologies and not go back to the mess we had before this pause.
This is the time to reset and reboot our transportation system and look at from the lens of people, culture and our new reality.
That means design, experiment and use cheap and quick tactical materials to close the gaps for the bicycle, transit and carpool lane networks, and try out the shared mobility pick up and drop off zones, delivery and loading zones.”
NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF CITY TRANSPORTATION OFFICIALS
“Pop-up bike lanes — especially when they’re protected, and when there is a comprehensive network of them — are among the cheapest and most effective ways to protect cyclists and pedestrians from car traffic, with the added benefit of slowing down drivers so they’re less lethal to one another, too.
Here’s another strategy that, so far, has been better on paper than it could be in reality: closing streets outside parks to car traffic so walkers can spread out.”
“Rapidly building out a network of protected bike lanes would let residents — especially those under “shelter in place” rules — use their bikes for necessary trips to the drugstore or supermarket, while also avoiding public transportation.
Closing certain streets to car traffic can also help promote social distancing, since it’s undeniably easier to maintain six feet of recommended distance from someone else when you’re not confined to a narrow sidewalk.
People are pouring into parks to get exercise and get some fresh air, making it more difficult for cities to control large gatherings and adhere to social distancing. Why not let them walk in the street?”
GREATER GREATER WASHINGTON
“Local governments need to think about how to make the outdoor space work for our health in the world of social distancing. Children, seniors, and everyone in between are going outside, but sidewalks and parks are often too small or narrow for people to truly stay six feet apart.
The streets offer a solution. After all, they are nearly empty, with plenty of space for motor vehicles and people getting outdoors safely. Some governments worldwide are taking steps in this direction, including Montgomery County, though DC and others have not yet.”
“So why not make cycling easier, not more difficult? At one stroke, you have people kept distanced during transport, and making them healthier in the long term – not to mention more likely to be able to see off respiratory infections like Covid-19.
It could be time for action.”
“HUB Cycling says the COVID-19 outbreak has led to fewer cars on the roads in several cities in the region, making it a prime opportunity to create new cycling infrastructure.
Navdeep Chhina, the organization’s acting director, said temporary lanes could help people keep an adequate distance from each other as more people choose to to walk and cycle during this time.”
OPEN LETTER TO THE UK BY 50 EXPERTS
50 academics and public health and mobility experts:
“Physical activity reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases, several cancers, dementia, and diabetes. These conditions affect millions of people; and some increase the risk of a serious outcome if one contracts Covid-19. Walking and cycling, particularly in greenspace, is good for mental as well as physical health. People should be encouraged to exercise at home, but for most of us it is unlikely that this will replace the walking and cycling we do outdoors.”
EUROPEAN PUBLIC HEALTH ALLIANCE
“Researchers and scientists from Germany join forces to call for safe walking and cycling during the COVID-19 pandemic in an open letter and petition…
As society is faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, limiting contact between potentially infected and uninfected people is a primary public health concern. This necessitates urgent changes to public spaces to enable safe mobility and physical activity.
Encouraging cycling and walking supports the public health goal of hindering the spread of COVID-19. Everyone who cycles or walks instead of using public transit avoids the risk of infection or infecting others in busses, trains, or subways. The use of public transit should be prioritized for those who do not have other options.
Walking and cycling should be supported by swift infrastructure adjustments, such as temporary bike lanes, modal filters for motorized vehicles, and shared street space where sidewalks for pedestrians are crowded. Speed limits should be enforced and reduced to reduce the risk of traffic accidents.”
ON OPEN STREETS
As we covered in our video, cities around the world are taking decisive action on the critical need for mobility and open spaces by repurposing our overbuilt car streets for cycling and walking.
Here is an rundown of these global efforts:
Two Great Overviews
“Now local governments are taking action to help that critical movement happen more easily: They’re striping new bike lanes, retooling traffic signals, suspending transit fares, closing some streets to vehicle traffic, and taking other temporary transportation measures.
CityLab has mapped some of the changes happening on city streets in the U.S. and around the world as of April 3, using data from the National Association of Transportation Officials’s Covid-19 Transportation Response Center, a newly launched repository of emergency responses.”
NEW YORK TIMES
“With roads cleared of traffic because of the coronavirus pandemic, some cities across the country have repurposed streets into car-free zones, giving pedestrians and cyclists extra room to spread out and practice social distancing.
Cities including Boston, Minneapolis and Oakland, Calif., have closed streets to through motor traffic. Others are extending sidewalks to make more space for pedestrians looking to stay at least six feet apart. And some municipalities are considering adopting similar measures.”
The Two Superstar Cities
“The Colombian capital of Bogotá is opening 76km (47 miles) of temporary bike lanes to reduce crowding on public transport and help prevent the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19), as well as to improve air quality.
This will expand the 550km (340 miles) of existing permanent bike lanes.
Further, 22km (13 miles) of the new lanes were converted overnight to open on 17 March by reconfiguring car lanes. The original proposal was to add 117km (72 miles) of temporary bike lanes in total but this was scaled back following evaluation of the activity in the first lanes.”
“With many residents working from home and children out of school, the city of Oakland, California, is closing off 74 miles of its streets to passing cars, making it easier for residents to run, bike or play just in time for the holiday weekend.
Oakland’s “slow streets” initiative, announced on Thursday by Mayor Libby Schaaf, will set aside up to 10% of the city’s streets for recreation. Starting this weekend with four specific intersections, affected streets will be closed to thru-traffic. A list of street closures will be published by Oakland’s department of transportation.
“Because of the reduction in car traffic, we will be closing off a number of streets so that bicyclists and pedestrians can spread out and take in fresh air safely on Oakland streets, free of cars,” Schaaf said on Thursday.”
Global List of Open Streets Initiatives
Here is a Google Sheet with a full list of all the open streets initiatives launched worldwide, updated live:
WHAT ABOUT LA?
Think Los Angeles should make its streets more bike/walk friendly?
Here are two initiatives you can easily and quickly help with!
The first is by checking out Streets For All’s initiative. Simply visit their page for information about the need for open streets in Los Angeles for equity, mobility, health, and safety.
The second is by signing the petition regarding how LA’s new street repaving schedule during COVID might impact the City’s own 2035 Mobility Plan. Click here to see and sign.