Gordon Price and I have been discussing how internationally cities are responding to the Covid-19 lock-downs by making it easier for residents to physically distance the required two meters or six feet while using city streets and spaces. These cities have also strategized how best to support businesses in their staged and in some places staggered reopenings. Key to supporting local businesses is making citizens comfortable in walking or cycling to shops and services, and designing the areas where consumers have to wait for their physically distanced time in stores comfortable and convenient.
One example of a Mayor and Council that are adjusting to the new normal and getting it done is the City of London Great Britain. There Mayor Sadiq Khan recognizes that the post Covid-19 recovery, single vehicle use and the challenges of physical distancing is “the biggest challenge to London’s public transport network in Transport for London’s history”.
Matthew Taylor in the Guardian writes about London’s struggle to keep the numbers of people using public transport down for physical distancing. London also has to insure that public transit journeys are not replaced with car usage which would create congestion and increase air pollution.
London’s answer is to repurpose roads for walking, cycling and transit only as the Covid-19 lockdown is lifted, with one of the biggest car-free initiatives in the world. Private vehicles and trucks are also being banned from several bridges. Work on the plan implementation has already begun, and will be completed in six weeks. As well, the congestion charge for any vehicle accessing central London will increase from 11.50 pounds (20 Canadian dollars) to 15 pounds(25 Canadian dollars) per trip.
That is what a municipal co-ordinated approach looks like addressing how cities can thrive in post pandemic times. But that verve, the ability for Council to assist businesses and citizens in a time of crisis is lacking in Vancouver. Gordon Price wrote about Council’s lack of enthusiasm in this article. It was noted journalist Daphne Bramham who so cogently stated the following in the Vancouver Sun:
“Vancouver was not designed with physical distancing in mind. “Even with most businesses shut down, pedestrians have been forced to dodge into traffic lanes to get around line-ups outside groceries, pharmacies and liquor stores.
There are also challenges for citizens using regular walking and cycling routes for accessing shops and services or getting exercise. “Sidewalks on even the major bridges are too narrow for pedestrians to comfortably keep their distance. The seawalls and Arbutus Greenway are also too narrow and have no barriers between cyclists and pedestrians.”
While we do have great staff at city hall that can flexibly meld a post pandemic city for physical distancing, policy to do so must come from Council. The current Council is nearly half way through their four year mandate. Each Councillor comes with closely held social values. But being on Council means teaming to represent what is needed for the city as a whole, not individual personal value sets. That means working together to approve badly needed policy and to show unified respect, care and attention to provide the concerted recovery direction businesses and citizens so badly need. It’s leadership.
While Council last week agreed to expand Covid related outdoor restaurant seating, there’s no urgent turnaround on that information for opening businesses that require that assistance now. In terms of expanding streets for walking and cycling, Daphne Bramham notes that this was not even voted on, “because three council members didn’t agree to continue meeting past 10 p.m. and extending the sitting hours requires a unanimous vote.”
These are not normal times. Leadership is needed to nimbly provide a post pandemic plan for opening businesses to thrive, and for returning consumers to feel safe and comfortable.
Kirk Lapointe in Business In Vancouver identifies post pandemic plans as starting right at the sidewalk. “The contemplation of cities like Vancouver about extending restaurants and some retailers into the streets to give them a fighting chance of generating a business amid social distancing is a no-brainer. Should have been approved weeks, months, years ago. They serve as staples of a neighbourhood’s identity, and in this crisis, they are a threatened breed that the species cannot afford to lose.”
Ensuring citizens feel comfortable patronizing local businesses, and giving businesses clear direction from the City on how they can use city street space is key for recovery. Other cities are using this post pandemic time to ensure the private automobile does not clog the road network by developing a system of filtered streets for walking, cycling and transit, ensuring ease and comfort of access.
Surely Vancouver can do this.