Around the world, governments have required nonessential businesses to close and have barred citizens from gathering, as necessary precautions to limit the spread of COVID-19. In order to break the mundanity of life while social distancing, people have rediscovered the joys of the outdoors. With this influx of pedestrians, communities have found themselves lacking adequate public space in order for everyone to social distance safely. Cities have been enacting policy changes to temporarily improve their bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, and meet their outdoor public space requirements. For instance, New Zealand has even offered to provide for 90% of the cost of such infrastructure improvements across the country.1 While a few cities have gone to the extent of accelerating the progression of ongoing bicycle/pedestrian projects, tactical urbanism has proven to be the star of the show. The flexibility of these tactical urbanism techniques has provided communities with the adaptable and easily applicable means to expand footpaths, bike lanes, and other public spaces.
Notably, for the first time in possibly a century, pedestrian and bicycle traffic appears to be at the forefront of community leader’s minds in the United States. During such stressful times, the ability to exercise outdoors can provide individuals with much-needed relief. These actions are especially important in urban areas like New York City, which has been called the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States. In New York, per the governor’s request to provide access to more open space, the mayor launched a four-day pilot closing four road segments across the city.2 New legalization has also been passed to allow the use of e-scooters and e-bikes, which will help delivery workers and individuals dependent on public transit or personal vehicles.3 In Philadelphia, Martin Luther King Jr Drive, a road that runs parallel to the Schuylkill River, was closed to increase the capacity of the nearby bike trail to meet social distancing standards.4 Due to low vehicular traffic, actions like these were feasible both nationally and internationally.
In other parts of continental America, our neighbors north and south of the border have been taking their own measures. In late March, Mexico City, Mexico proposed a plan to create miles of new bike trails as an alternative to public transit.5 The corresponding map of proposed trails details what appears to be an extensive expansion of their pedestrian and bicycle network. Several Canadian cities have also prescribed a range of methods to mitigate this issue. Montreal, specifically, has taken a unique approach limiting the vehicular traffic between neighborhoods and encouraging residents to use facilities within their own neighborhood by closing parking lots, clearing parking lanes and closing roadways/bridges for pedestrian use.6 Traffic, bicycle, and pedestrian signal cycles have been shortened and manual, ‘push-button’ crosswalks have been automated in Ottawa, Canada as well as cities around the world, including Brisbane, Australia, Brussel, Belgium, and Charleston, USA.7 These actions were taken in an effort to shorten commute times and limit the amount of physical contact necessary to navigate roadways.
Across the Atlantic, Vienna, Austria is taking creating pedestrian space a step further by introducing temporary meeting zones. These meeting zones are not intended to function as places to meet as the name suggests, but rather to provide individuals without terraces, lawns or access to parks with a space to step outside for fresh air.8 The four meeting zones, as well as corresponding road closings, can be found on their GIS open data portal. Both Vienna officials and Manchester officials alike recognize the importance of taking these precautions not only to sustain cooperative isolation but also to slowly transition out of it. Chris Boardman, the Greater Manchester Cycling and Walking Commissioner, suggested that one of the most effective ways to gain insight on how to reconfigure a roadway is to reach out to the residents.9
While changes to the physical infrastructure are critical for allowing citizens to navigate urban spaces safely, some cities have chosen to address some of the financial limitations of their residents. The Berlin Senate Department for Environment, Transport, and Climate Protection in Berlin, Germany partnered with NextBike, the local bike sharing system, in order to provide thirty-minutes of free service per bike loan in addition to adding new temporary bike paths.10 Chicago has taken similar measures with its own bike share program. A commonality between these cities is that they all appear to be analyzing, learning and applying methods from across the globe. While the spread of COVID-19 has been devastating in many ways, it has similarly provided nations and citizens with the opportunity to work together to realize their outdoor physical activity needs.
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