April 10, 2020

The Fear Virus – 3

Bob Ransford:

Masked like some furtive bandit, fearful of just being outside the four walls of my home with a compromised immune system, I walk along the waterfront as the sun rises in the early morning, trying to find some solace from weeks of mostly solitary confinement.

There are only a few who disturb their slumber so early on these days that seem like working holidays. How could I not acknowledge those who I pass at an adequate social distance? It’s basic human contact. At very least, it’s an acknowledgement that, if the passerby is not hidden behind a mask, I have nothing really to hide from them. If they, too are masked, a good morning greeting is a kindred-like act, admitting a mutual anxiety, a resignation to a certain desperation to survive. A simple “good morning” or a “have a good day” is a declaration that we are one — we are ALL in this together.

Perhaps it’s also a wishful act. Wishing that we will all continue to be “in this together”, with the “this” being the caring for the planet that we all share. Wishing for a togetherness or mutual resolve to face reality and tackle the big challenges that face us all. A mutual resolve that has long been missing. Could this be the dawn of a new reality?

A simple acknowledgment as we pass by each other.

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PT readers are responding eloquently. John Graham:

I have experienced that too although I am encouraged to find that if I am the person moving out of the way to create the social distance, I am often greeted with a smile or thanks. So I have chosen to be the distancer just to create this response.

It also reminds me of when I would run in the mornings on the West Van seawall: before 8 or so in the morning, everyone would say hello as I passed, as if by being out there in smaller numbers in the early hours created a sense of community. By 9 am it was back to normal; just a glance at best as I ran by.

Perhaps what this all means is that we will find new normals where the initial fear will have given way to respect for proper distancing.

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From Dianna:

I’ve given A World Redesigned some thought, and here’s what comes to mind: social distancing and fear of others. I hope this doesn’t become part of our world as we come out of this insanity.

A couple of years ago as a grey-haired lady friend and I slipped and slid along icy Portland sidewalks, almost every person we passed in four or five blocks smiled and said something kind. That’s when I realized that I’m at a point in my life that people acknowledge my presence on the street. Whether it’s because I’m harmless or look like your beloved grandmother, whether it’s compassionate or demeaning, is a topic for another conversation, but there it is … people greeted me.

These days, not so much. Too many times it’s a furtive look before dodging away, very few smiles, and, underlying it all, a sense of fear. I hope this goes away with the lifting of restrictions.


Price Tags welcomes other insights and comments on “A World Redesigned”.

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It’s near the height of cherry blossom season, there are only so many beautiful springs in one’s life, and we really need this one now.

To safely use the glorious green spaces of Vancouver (this weekend with pink!) Vancouverites want to know how to space themselves.  Greenways are ideal – those streets where vehicle traffic is so minimal that runners with watches, parents with baby carriages, skateboarders with small electric motors, grandparents with walkers, kids with their first bikes, dogs with leashes, and everyone with a camera, i.e. everyone, can all sort themselves out with sufficient distance and politeness that everyone feels they are getting the most out of a beautiful spring day without endangering themselves or others.

It would be nice to have a poster which shows the appropriate distances and etiquette.  But I don’t think the City or health authorities quite know what that is.  They’re waiting to see what people actually do before they make decisions about how they should do it.  When it comes to designating road space, with a few exceptions, the City seems a bit paralyzed.  At least they’re not indicating so far they that they have any intentions.

So it looks like we will just do it:

hilco Greenway, April 9, 4:10 pm

Five different users: cyclist, runner, observer, dog walker, kid with bike, daddy.  All spaced and sorted in a 66-foot right-of way, a standard West End Street.  There’s not a psychological no-go barrier at the curb for those not in cars.  But there is room for a car if it moves slowly and yields to other users.

My guess: This weekend and on, Vancouverites are going to pour out of their sequestered spaces.  They will take the space they need, as they should, to enjoy the city and maintain their health.  And not spread a virus.

Then the City can respond.

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Ian Young, Vancouver columnist with the South China Morning Post, wrote a widely circulated piece which credited some of B.C.’s success at flattening the Covid curve to the early actions of the Chinese community.

Virologist Dr Jason Kindrachuk, Canada research chair in new and re-emerging viruses at the University of Manitoba, attributed BC’s “phenomenal” results to … the early behaviour of BC’s sizeable Chinese community …

“What you have in BC is a Chinese community that was seeing the impacts across Asia [and] had been through Sars … and there may have been a grass roots movement in that community to start with the physical distancing,” said Kindrachuk.  …

The local Chinese community was also an early adopter of face masks, which Canada’s chief medical officer Dr Theresa Tam only this week acknowledged as a way for the general public to help prevent the spread of Covid-19. “In Asian communities there is more comfort and a relationship with these things [masks] in public …

Ah, the mask.

Kindrachuk: (The BC Chinese community’s reaction to the outbreak at its early stages) “needs to be examined as we try to work out what things helped in different communities that we can all think about whether to adopt as time goes on.”

Will the mask now be another indicator of ‘West Pacific’ – a culture that combines habits and traditions in a blend of the new normal?

Until recently, whenever I saw someone wearing a mask over their mouth, I assumed they had been brought up in Asia.  An indicator of the immigrant, still wearing local dress, taking a precaution from a more-crowded culture.  I don’t see it that way anymore.

Of course, it will be appropriately redesigned:

Billie Eilish at the Grammy Awards, in January, wearing a Gucci face mask. Photo: AFP

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At PT we’re thinking about how the world is being reshaped by the impact of Covid19.  While there may never be a post-pandemic-free world (there never really was; we just didn’t want to think about it), we are going to adapt.  But how and to what? 

Already the ideas are flowing – an example from the New York Times on the office:

Those in the midst of planning suggest that the post-pandemic office might look radically different:

  • There may be limits on the number of people allowed in an elevator.
  • New technology could provide access to rooms and elevators without employees having to touch a handle or press a button.  Sensor-activated controls may also increase, reducing the number of surfaces that need to be touched in an office and allowing workers to use elevators and open doors with the wave of a hand.
  • Chairs on casters will permit people to roll seats a safe distance from colleagues.
  • Interest has surged in new materials such as those that mimic sharkskin, to which microscopic organisms have difficulty adhering.
  • Some old metals may experience a revival. Copper and its alloys — including brass and bronze — have been shown to be essentially self-sanitizing, able to kill bacteria and, early studies suggest, perhaps even the coronavirus plaguing the planet.
  • The ability to work from home at least a few days a week — long sought by many American workers — may be here to stay. “A big light bulb went off during this pandemic,” said Anita Kamouri, vice president at Iometrics, a workplace services firm. Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, expects more than 25 percent of employees to continue working from home multiple days a week, up from fewer than 4 percent who did so before the pandemic. “I don’t think that genie is going back into the bottle,” she said.
  • If companies do allow more of their employees to log in from home, some may consider reducing their office footprint, which could have significant ramifications for commercial real estate. But if the amount of space devoted to employee workstations and other functions increases, demand for space could balance out.  There will be a higher value around spaces where we come together.
  • Lounges, cafes and other gathering spaces that sprang up to make collaborative work easier may become even more important if employees do more work from home and commute in for meetings.
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Dianna reports in:

The first hour of the first day of the first (?) closing of Stanley Park to cars.

It turns out that riding in Stanley Park when cars are banned is very much like riding in Stanley Park on any sunny weekday afternoon – lots of cyclists, almost all lycra-wearing roadies. It’s important to shoulder check before switching lanes because of lots of other cyclists, not cars.

I saw exactly one casual rider on the seawall, and I cut her some slack because she was wearing headphones and maybe hadn’t heard the news.

Ever been tempted to pause in the middle of Stanley Park Road to take a photograph? This is your moment.

I’ve always wanted to ride the wrong way around the park, and this could be the time to do that, but with a BIG warning to be aware of cyclists flying along the roads.

Oh, and if anyone has lost a red bandana it’s in the middle of the right lane just past Prospect Point.


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Excerpts from Jarrett Walker’s perspective on the importance of transit in a time of pandemic.  Full essay here from Citylab. 

In response to this emergency, major agencies are doing their best not to cut service much. … Based on my informal discussions with many agencies, the service cuts seem to be in the range of 10% to 40% at this point, far less than the roughly 70% drop in ridership.

Why are agencies behaving this way? Because they are not businesses. And if there’s one thing we must learn from this moment, it’s that we have to stop talking about transit as though ridership is its only purpose, and its primary measure of success.

Right now, essential services have to keep going. It’s not just the hospital, the grocery store, and basic utilities.  It’s the entire supply chain that keeps those places stocked, running, and secure. Almost all of these jobs are low-wage. The people using transit now are working in hospitals that are saving lives. They are creating, shipping and selling urgently needed supplies. They are keeping grocery stores functioning, so we can eat.

In transit conversations we often talk about meeting the needs of people who depend on transit. This makes transit sound like something we’re doing for them. But in fact, those people are providing services that we all depend on, so by serving those lower income riders, we’re all serving ourselves.

The goal of transit, right now, is neither competing for riders nor providing a social service for those in need. It is helping prevent the collapse of civilization. …

… even for those with the fewest options, the term dependent has allowed us to imagine helpless people in need of our rescue, rather than people that we depend on to keep things running. Everyone who lives in a city, or invests in one, or lives by selling to urban populations is transit dependent in this sense.

Meanwhile, if we all drive cars out of a feeling of personal safety, we’ll quickly restore the congestion that strangles our cities, the emissions that poison us and our planet, and the appalling rates of traffic carnage that we are expected to tolerate. Once again, we’ll need incentives, such as market-based road pricing, to make transit attractive enough so that there’s room for everyone to move around the city. That will mean more ridership, but again, ridership isn’t exactly the point. The point is the functioning of the city, which again, all of us depend on.

Let’s look beyond ridership or “transit dependence” and instead measure all the ways that transit makes urban civilization possible. In big cities, transit is an essential service, like police and water, without which nothing else is possible. Maybe that’s how we should measure its results.

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The Park Board is going to make better and safer use of the space it owns in Stanley Park:

Here’s the consequence:

Closing Stanley Park’s roads will reduce the daily number of people in the park and open up space for cyclists and pedestrians from the neighbourhood.

It won’t be just from “the neighbourhood.”  Expect Vancouverites (and those from the North Shore) to use the bikeway and greenway network to access Stanley Park too.  Indeed, recreational athletes already do.

Next step: the City can likewise reallocate road space to take pressure off the most popular (and too crowded) greenway paths.

Here’s a list of opportunities as compiled from Jeff Leigh with HUB Cycling.

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