The province of Nova Scotia has come up with the slogan “Exercise, don’t socialize” to describe the new behaviour required of people in public. During the Covid-19 crisis everyone is being asked to practice physical distancing, staying  two meters or six feet away from people when outside your home.

But as anyone that has tried to walk or roll  with the required physical distancing of two meters will know, the sidewalks in Vancouver are just not wide enough. The standard for new sidewalks varies from 1.2 meters wide to 1.8 meters wide and does not offer enough space for two people to pass each other safely with  the Covid-19 required distance.

Walking is good for  you to maintain physical and mental health, and is encouraged by Dr. Bonnie Henry, the Province’s Medical Health Officer in this video clip by Emad Agahi with  CTV News.

The Globe and Mail’s Oliver Moore has written that both Toronto and Vancouver are examining ways to make some parts of the street network  closed to vehicular movement to allow pedestrians to spill out into some streets for recreation and to maintain the required physical distancing.

The thinking behind walking on connected streets has already been done in Vancouver where 25 years ago the Urban Landscape Taskforce composed of interested citizens, several who were landscape architects, came up with the ambitious Greenways Plan.

I have previously written about this extraordinary plan that came from the work of these citizens. What they termed “greenways” are actually a network of “green streets” that link traffic calmed ability accessible streets with good amenities to schools, parks, shops and services. There are 140 kilometers of greenways, with a network of fourteen city greenways that go boundary to boundary in Vancouver. The pattern language was derived from the Seawall and the Seaside Greenway route which provides Vancouverites with routes near water and forms one quarter of the whole network.


The original intent was to have a city greenway go through each neighbourhood and be a 25 minute walk or a ten minute bike ride from every residence.

The Greenway network plan was quietly backburnered  during Vision’s political reign at city hall in favour of bike routes.  But these traffic calmed routes that have sidewalks, connections to parks with restrooms, curb drops on corners to facilitate accessibility , wayfinding and public art still exist. You may have walked or biked down Ontario Street or 37th Avenue (the Ridgeway Greenway from Pacific Spirit Park to Central Park in Burnaby)  which form two of the routes. Downtown, Carrall Street is also a greenway.

These streets lend themselves well to closure for all but local traffic and emergency vehicles. That was the intent when they were first conceived, that they could be closed for pedestrian and biking use. And as the city develops, these streets may be permanently closed in the future,  forming new linear parks in a densifying city fifty years in the future.

The folks at the Vancouver Public Space Network have also recommended greenways as publicways closed to traffic during Covid-19, and have some of their own recommendations as well.

New York City’s Mayor de Blasio  has announced a plan to close two streets to traffic in each of the city’s neighbourhoods which Streetsblog calls “completely underwhelming”. There’s no indication if the City is thinking of a short street or a grand gesture like closing Broadway.

The lack of information suggests that there’s not been much thought put into the creation of a connected street network for sidewalk users that now need more space, not only to exercise, but be able to get somewhere while maintaining the ever crucial physical distancing.


Images: radiocms, businessday.ng, sightlines





  1. Former COV Senior Landscape Architect and SFU Adjunct Professor Michael von Hausen led a very under-resourced public outreach effort for the initial Greenways Plan. Recognition for his efforts is long overdue. Thank you.

    Editor’s note: The Greenways program was staffed interdepartmentally and there were many notable people involved from several departments including Alan Duncan, Doug Smith, David Yurkovitch, Linda Chow and others.

  2. I don’t think Vision shelved the plan, I think they were assuming that anything good for biking would automatically also be good for walking. The two activities compliment and accompany each other very well so it makes sense. If you look at any bike way design done when Vision was in power (many of which were worked on before they even were…) you’ll see elements that support walking. (Benches, curb bulges, lower motor vehicle volumes, etc.)

    But yes, there needs to be much more done. Maybe for this summer there can be some temporary/trial car-light greenways set up where future greenways are planned. A few barriers and signs here and there should do it. Monitor and adjust as needed. Then see what people like and don’t like. Then you’d likely have more support for making them or something similar permanent.
    Looking at the map I’d like to see it even more ambitious. More greenways than it shows. It should be no more than a 12 minute walk from everywhere to a greenway.

  3. A little unfair to say that Vision shelved it for bike routes. And greenways are great, but there are strong limitations to what they can do in terms of getting people to arterial destinations

  4. Vision didn’t shelve walking for bike routes. The Seaside Greenway along Point Grey Road is a good example. Once the street was calmed, they spent political capital to go back in and widen the sidewalks, among other things.

  5. There are some immediate opportunities in terms of bike lanes that would benefit people walking. A lane could be appropriated from vehicle traffic for a temporary bike lane in many areas. Northbound on the Cambie Bridge is a good example, as it would provide more space on the MUP for people walking. Similarly, along Quebec near Science World. And the Granville Bridge is an obvious one, with all the public support shown for a greenway there. I hear that the Arbutus Greenway is very busy, so a parallel route could ease the congestion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *