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.
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