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As nations on every continent slouch toward the end of a long, coronavirus-spiked summer, as cities reopen and reclose their economies, as schools and universities have resumed and some have already stopped in-classroom education amid new outbreaks, the epidemiological goal posts keep moving, and, with them, the ability to know when we might emerge from the shadow of the pandemic.
Masks are the most visible line of defence against the coronavirus for the millions who venture outside daily to essential jobs from Manchester to Manhattan to Mumbai – or to shop for food and supplies, and get exercise. But physical distance is the invisible yet even more crucial barrier against infection, and the greatest resource for staging a global recovery.
Cities where it’s possible to conduct many of life’s public activities safely – while maintaining the six feet [1.8 metres] of distance from one another that medical experts recommend – can mean the difference between a sputtering recovery that disrupts daily life, the global economy and democratic institutions, and a sustained, surging reopening that enables nations to grow and thrive, and not just survive.
Space shouldn’t be the limitation of safe, healthy cities, and creating a six-foot city is a challenge not of epidemiology but of the geometry of street design. On most city streets, maintaining six feet of distance is a physical impossibility not because there isn’t enough space, but because the street space is poorly allocated. About 80% of public space in cities are its streets, an area equivalent to entire cities unto themselves.
At the New York City department of transportation, where I served as commissioner under mayor Mike Bloomberg, we viewed the city’s 6,000 miles [9656 km] of streets as critical assets that could be used for more than just moving and parking cars. In less than seven years, we created 400 miles [644 km] of bike paths, seven rapid bus routes, and launched 70 plazas citywide – reclaiming 180 acres [73 hectares] of former street space. We acted quickly, with projects arriving in just days or weeks and using temporary materials. The result was traffic that moved as well or better than before, the fewest recorded traffic deaths in New York history, and substantial improvements in local business.
Cities around the world have since adopted this playbook, and reclaiming lanes was the first step for many cities responding to the pandemic. Cities like Milan, Paris and London emerged from lockdown by transforming hundreds of miles of streets and creating safe room to walk, bike and take public transportation.
Vilnius was one of the first cities in the world to turn road space into open-air restaurant and cafe seating, giving people a safe place to escape their homes and struggling businesses a way to reopen. The subsequent success of in-street dining in cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco reveal new possibilities hidden within urban lanes that could outlast the pandemic and serve cities in their rebirth.
Streets in the time of Covid-19 offer the precious territory needed to relocate more of our inside lives into the outside – and to reimagine our avenues for a new, safer, more inclusive and equitable century.
As millions of children and young people return to schools and universities, cities like Paris and New York are waking up to the open space offered by streets adjacent to schools to be recast as outdoor classrooms, school auditoriums or gym classes. And nations around the world are nervously contemplating options for allowing people to vote safely in elections, notably in the US, where a presidential and congressional election looms on 3 November.
Streets can be the bedrock of the global recovery. The National Association of City Transportation Officials/Global Designing Cities Initiative has imagined how streets could be designed to serve vital institutions during and after the pandemic. Seen through a lens of safe distance, we can see all the space we need in our streets.
Streets can be adapted into instruction areas, permitting smaller class sizes indoors where space can be limited. Roads can be converted into schoolwide assembly and event spaces, and staging areas for children arriving to and departing from school, or auxiliary playgrounds, allowing gymnasiums to be converted into classroom space. Instead of hard infrastructure, curbside classrooms made with inexpensive, movable materials can be adapted for different uses or fitted with temporary heating and cooling equipment.
In many cities, a local library, school gym or other public building typically serves as the neighbourhood polling place. Streets provide similar options for open-air queuing and voting on a large scale without crowding while waiting. Public-facing government offices can also reopen by moving operations out of the office and into communities, where they can be more accessible to constituents to obtain licences, permits and information on accessing public services.
Dedicated, strictly enforced zones for immediate pickup for customers arriving in cars can help reduce or eliminate long-term parking that forces other motorists to search for parking on side streets. Curb lanes can also be converted into specific time-of-day delivery zones, allowing trucks and vans unfettered access to the curb before shops open. Businesses can convert streets into pedestrian-only retail arcades, and neighbourhood commercial groups can help tailor the spaces to bring more customers to the street.
A single parking lane that stores a few dozen idle cars for hours or even days can move thousands of people in buses, on bikes and walking. Road lanes can also be repurposed for bike lanes, allowing people to commute safely on bikes, e-bikes and scooters, and helping reduce crowding in city bus and metro systems. A network of bus lanes can allow buses to operate more frequently and with less crowding, relieving trains and trams. Former parking or driving lanes can be adapted to provide more room for pedestrians to walk and queue at businesses without crowding each other.
The pandemic has revealed that parks alone are not enough to accommodate city residents. The very idea that people must retreat from their homes and travel to a destination park is outmoded; placemaking strategies can bring parks to neighbourhood streets.
Each city contains thousands of acres of space that could be used for healthy recreation. In some neighbourhoods, play streets can make roads safe enough for a child to bike unsupervised, while also making the same road attractive for residents to jog or bike safely and comfortably, reducing the number of people who travel to public parks and tracks for exercise.
The differences between a tree- and bench-lined park path and a city street can be solved by design and bringing low-cost, rapid-implementation lane reallocation, artistic designs and landscaping to streets, which can put community open space within reach of every address.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Janette Sadik-Khan: we must rethink our streets to create the six-foot city | Cities