By Jim LaMorte, MUP, May 24 2020
Disasters tend to reveal a community’s weaknesses, those elements of policy or design that irritate at best of times, but we accept as “normal” until exposed. Covid-19 has illuminated the long-standing North American auto-centric design practice in stark light: Allocating public space to autos comes at a price…to people.
While physical separation has proven to be one of the most effective Covid-19 safety measures worldwide, many urban dwellers using narrow municipal sidewalks are challenged to maintain the two-metre distance while passing others. Physical distancing is especially challenging for individuals using walkers and scooters. These conflicts often occur at “hot spots” where walkways are narrowed by utility poles or boxes, construction, or where newly reopened shops or eateries create outdoor queues.
To maintain that precious 2.0-m distance, pedestrians using 1.5 m-wide sidewalks sometimes step into the street between parked cars, where they risk injury from cars, motorcycles or bicycles. The current streetscape design is both unsafe and discourages economic activity.
Cities in a long list are now adapting their roads and sidewalks to temporarily accommodate increased foot traffic amid distancing requirements. Three basic strategies seem to dominate:
Borrow Curbside Parking – Montreal
Allocating public space for pedestrians can be as simple as using the curbside parking stalls adjacent to a hot spot sidewalk. This option expands the width of the walking area using bollards, signs, and paint markings to allow pedestrians to safely step into the street to bypass opposing walkers or shopping lines. This tactic has been adopted in Toronto, Montreal, Victoria, and Vancouver.
Photo credit: Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press
Take a Lane – Calgary
This tactic involves temporarily removing a lane formerly dedicated to vehicle travel. This allows more area for pedestrians to pass each other, and for line-ups at retail stores or restaurants. It is especially useful where sidewalks are narrow. This technique is also being applied in Des Moines, Kansas City, and Montreal.
Photo credit: Robert Steuteville
Share a Street – Oakland
This hybrid approach leaves a street open to local traffic, but discourages through traffic. The design keeps traffic volume low and car speeds low, allowing use by pedestrians, cyclists, skaters, and other modes of active transportation. Other cities applying this technique include Bend, Oregon, Seattle, and Salt Lake City.
Photo credit: Robert Steuteville
The City of Victoria has installed several temporary pedestrian zones to provide more space for physical distancing directives.
High traffic locations with narrow sidewalks are being prioritized for these measures, such as a portion of Simcoe Street in James Bay. The changes are demarcated with bollards, signs, and paint.
Photo credit: J. LaMorte
The City has also installed similar measures near grocery stores, pharmacies and other services elsewhere, such as on St. Charles Street alongside Fairfield Plaza (above), and on Fifth Street near Quadra Village. We understand that a larger roll-out of Covid-19 street initiatives is forthcoming from the City of Victoria.
Other municipalities in Greater Victoria, including Colwood, Langford and Sidney, have also introduced some street changes – in most cases, allowing extra room for restaurants and cafes to operate outdoor patios on publicly owned space.
The Placemaking Network encourages all Greater Victoria municipalities to move quickly to improve safety for the many people who are walking while trying to maintain safe physical distances.