The idea of closing roads for pedestrians and cyclists is nothing new. The popular Ciclovia which originated decades ago in Bogota Colombia closes streets to vehicular traffic on weekends in many South American cities. Residents take over the streets for strolling, rolling and cycling. Bogota’s ciclovia runs on Sundays until 2:00 p.m. and also on major holidays. I have participated in ciclovias in Lima Peru and in Quito Ecuador where major thoroughfares are closed, providing “open streets” for active transportation on Sundays.
The COVID-19 pandemic provides an unique opportunity to rethink our use of major streets. While the Province’s Medical Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry encourages walking and rolling for exercise and mental and physical health, she is also cognizant that people need to stay six feet or two meters apart in their small family groups.
That’s where the problem is. As I have written earlier, 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. Sure you can spill onto the street, but that’s not something someone with a baby carriage or assistive device can curb jump to do.
It also is telling how clumsy we are at imagineering more space for pedestrians. We know how to put in bike lanes adjacent to sidewalks , but we just are not good at giving walkers and rollers more space.
But look at Calgary and Winnipeg. Madeline Smith of the Calgary Herald reports the City of Calgary is doing a demonstration test by closing six major roadways on weekends to give their citizens places to walk. They are all located close to where people live, and provide an opportunity to get out and exercise with close family members without worrying about being too close to other people. If you are familiar with Calgary, you will appreciate the scale of the closures, which are listed here.
The Mayor of Calgary Naheed Nenshi made it clear that the street closures were for exercise, and not for crowded gatherings of any kind. And he provides a very clear rationale for why these weekend closures are happening-to keep physical distance and to allow people to exercise.
“It’s going to be much more along the lines of just making sure that if we need to use roadway space so that people have room, we will do so.”
In the Calgary case, the routes run close to parks and the river valley, offering people the chance to make a loop during their exercise routines. With an effective first closure, Calgary is looking at extending these closures for weekends during the pandemic.
The City of Winnipeg already allows pedestrians and cyclists to have priority on four major roads on Sundays and holidays from May into their summers. Winnipeg is now formally implementing those road and lane priority for active transportation earlier, commencing next Monday April 6 until May 3. The priority is in place from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. daily. As Winnipeg Councillor Janice Lukes observed:
“We’ve already got a framework, let’s put it in play seven days a week for now. The thing is, people are going to go outside whether you want them to or not. So we need to make it safe for them and we need to reinforce social distancing.”
Which brings us to the question. With less traffic volume and less weekend traffic why can’t Vancouver do the same thing? Providing open streets for people to walk unimpeded by the worry of the six foot or two meter physical distancing is a chance for all to get outside. If Calgary and Winnipeg can do it, why can’t we?
Images: Tourism Calgary