COVID Place making
February 12, 2021

No Rush Hour, No Transit? The Pandemic Ultimatum

An insightful survey from Slate:

The prevailing sense of doom comes from a dawning awareness that the old workday travel patterns are not going to snap back into place when the pandemic subsides.

(In San Francisco, the Salesforce) software company’s “chief people officer” outlined new work policies. “The 9-to-5 workday is dead,” he wrote. Most employees will be in the office between one and three days a week. Twitter, another San Francisco tech employer, has announced an indefinite work-from-home policy. The situation looks similar in New York, D.C., Chicago, and other major U.S. cities.

Last month, the transportation scholar David Levinson asked: What if downtowns never come back? In Sydney, where Levinson teaches, the virus is contained. Car traffic has returned to normal, but transit use is down about 40 percent from last year. …

Asking a transit agency to operate without rush hour is like asking a restaurant to operate without dinner service. Most systems are built to serve a downtown core and managed to serve peak demand. And it was during that peak that transit agencies collected most of their fares.

Rush-hour travel to a concentrated area is also the scenario in which transit best rivals driving on cost and convenience, thanks to jam-packed roads and expensive parking rates …

Peak-hour transit is a blessing and a curse.

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Who touches every household during the pandemic and knows where seniors live? Canada Post still goes door to door in many areas, and knows whether mail is being picked up or not.

But libraries in the metro Toronto area went one step further during the pandemic when their public areas were closed down.

They called their senior library card holders-who number over 20,000-to ask how they were doing.

Starting last summer, twenty staff members made a list of their clients between the ages of 80 to 100 years and  have made calls to 10,000 individuals. That was so effective,  library staff are now calling the next cohort, those aged between 70 and 79.

The library staff ask how the senior is doing, and also lets them know what library services are available to them during Ontario’s lockdowns, and how they can continue to access reading materials. The staff explain how the curbside pickup service works, and also how ebooks can be borrowed. There is also a delivery service for those who are immobile.

Each call takes about ten minutes of staff time.

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Great Britain’s “High” or main streets are seeing  purchases for things other than food drop by 24 percent in shopping areas, with an overall decline in sales being the worst since record keeping started in 1995.

As The Guardian’s Richard Partington writes closing down “non-essential” shops never recovered from the online spending takeovers.Total retail sales increased 1.8 percent from November to December and surprisingly food and drink sales were the highest recorded for holiday spending. Credit card company Barclaycard saw online retail spending increase over 50 percent in December.

Canada has not had as many strict pandemic closures as in Great Britain but this study undertaken by  Vancity, Vancity Community Investment Bank (VCIB), and the Canadian Urban Institute shows that from September to December visits to main street businesses decreased 35 to 70 percent compared to 2019, with nearly 60 percent of businesses making less money, some garnering half of the revenue made pre-pandemic.

Retail Insider’s  Mario Toneguzzi  reports that the interim President of Vancity says it clearly~

Local businesses form the backbone of the Canadian economy and they have shown determination and resilience during the pandemic. Given the extraordinary measures and investment they have made to continue operating, they are now counting on us to get behind them.”

Concentrating on main streets in communities in Ontario and British Columbia, research shows that small businesses directly attached to the local community performed better. Up to one quarter of all businesses were doing more business online. Sadly in Victoria and in Vancouver (the survey was conducted in Vancouver’s Strathcona) the majority of business owners reported increased safety issues in their location as keeping customers away.

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It’s not looking good in New York:

In Manhattan alone, new car registrations rose 76% and in Brooklyn, registrations climbed 45%.

D’autre part:

Then came the coronavirus and a national lockdown. With practically no traffic, even non-urbanists like me suddenly realized how much space we’d given over to cars, and we envisioned these same streets as quieter, cleaner public spaces that could contain something else.

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Curbs are being poured along Beach Avenue from Stanley Park to Hornby Street.

The City approved this permanent change from cones to concrete after a few months of consultation – albeit a ‘temporary’ permanent change, subject to the English Bay master plan currently under design by PFS Studio and Snøhetta.

 

These interventions also deal with some of the confusion and conflict resulting from this fast pandemic response in the spring when bikes were removed from the seawall.  Cyclists tended to ignore stop signals primarily designed for vehicle traffic – so now the crossings provide clarity, safety and a slowing down of two-wheelers.  (Hopefully eye-level signals for bikes will be installed where necessary.)

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