10 Cities Creating Safer Streets During COVID-19

New York City | Photo courtesy NACTO Library

Creating space for biking and walking during the pandemic

Cities across the globe are taking the initiative to slow down cars and create more space for people walking, biking, rolling, and shopping. The following are examples of streets that:

  1. Increase safety so essential workers can get to their jobs outside of transit vehicles 
  2. Create more space for people of all ages to walk and bike for exercise while physical distancing 
  3. Reduce car speeds and therefore crashes so that hospitals can focus their attention on treating other patients. 
  4. Provide more space so that people can visit business districts to shop and grab a bite more safely. 

We are hoping at least some of these ideas are adopted by the City of Pittsburgh in the months ahead.

What is a Slow Street? 

Slow Streets typically use temporary barricades and signage to slow and limit traffic on residential blocks so that residents can use the street as a shared space. In some cases, roads that do not include residences or businesses, for example park roads, are closed completely to vehicle traffic.

10 Cities Implementing Slow Streets, Pop-up Bike Lanes, and more

Oakland, CA | Photo courtesy NACTO Library

1. Oakland, California 

Oakland began introducing slow streets in early April in response to crowded parks and sidewalks. The city now has plans to apply the slow streets concept to 74 miles of streets (10% of streets in the city). Unlike other cities that have primarily focused on parks for their slow streets, Oakland has dispersed the intervention around the city to reduce pre-existing barriers to outdoor recreation, like living far away from greenspaces.

2. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 

Philly was one of the first in the country to fully close a street to car traffic to make more space for social distancing. The city has closed Martin Luther King Junior Drive indefinitely to allow more space for those using the trails in Fairmount Park.

3. Cleveland, Ohio

Cleveland Metroparks are spearheading the closure of their roads to cars, transforming the roads into open miles of trails (some as wide as 20 feet) for folks to more safely enjoy the wildlife in and around the city nature reserves.

Tampa, FL | Photo courtesy NACTO Library

4. Tampa, Florida

Tampa’s mayor has worked with its small business community to reorganize street space in key business districts, closing down select streets to car traffic and temporarily allowing restaurants and retail businesses to expand their business footprint onto the public rights-of-way. Restaurant owners can utilize semi-permanent outdoor seating options for their restaurant patrons. The city has also closed several roads to aid in physically-distanced exercising.

Denver, CO | Photo courtesy NACTO Library

5. Denver, Colorado 

The mile high city of Denver is known for being an active metropolis. Parks are closed to cars, streets are closed to through-traffic, prioritizing particularly dense neighborhoods and those that don’t have easy access to parks. The city sees these safety measures as a part of their Vision Zero plan.

New York City | Photo courtesy NACTO Library

6. New York, New York

NYC’s rollout of slow streets has evolved over the past several weeks. In their failed first attempt, the city unnecessarily required police presence, which received pushback from residents and city officials alike. In the most recent iteration, the city is planning to set up 40 miles of slow streets by the end of May without police, with the eventual goal of reaching 100 miles. Advocates are pushing for the city to consider adding slow streets in neighborhoods that have been hit hardest by the pandemic and where pollution is higher so that they can benefit from car-free streets.

Seattle, WA | Photo courtesy NACTO Library

7. Seattle, Washington

Seattle is closing 20 miles of streets to most vehicle traffic, a program they’ve dubbed “Stay Healthy Streets”. The city government views this as a long term, or even permanent, change to keep people healthy through the long haul of the pandemic. Seattle is also rapidly implementing new bike infrastructure to accommodate the recent increase in biking for transportation and recreation.

8. Bogotá, Colombia

Bogotá, a city known for its weekly city-wide open streets program, called Ciclovía, has transformed 47 miles of car lanes into bike lanes using traffic cones. This decision was made to ease pressure on public transportation and allow more space for social distancing. A private company in the city also donated 400 e-bikes to healthcare workers so they could travel to work safely.

Milan Italy| Photo courtesy NACTO Library

9. Milan, Italy 

Milan has decided to rapidly implement new street designs that allow for more space for people walking and biking. 22 miles of low-cost, temporary lanes will be added over the summer.

Paris, France | Photo courtesy NACTO Library

10. Paris, France

Leading the global city response to the coronavirus crisis, the mayor of Paris firmly stated that moving forward, “..it’s out of the question to think that arriving in the heart of the city by car is any sort of solution, when it could actually aggravate the [health crisis].” The city is planning for… (drumroll please) … over 400 miles of temporary cycling routes to help ease post lock-down car congestion!

217+ cities improving streets for biking and walking during the pandemic

If you want to learn more about the hundreds of cities trying to make positive changes for people walking and biking during the pandemic, you can explore a full list and track their efforts at the link below! This open-source spreadsheet was started by the urban planner, Michael Lydon.

Which streets would you pick in your neighborhood?  

Now that you’ve seen some examples from around the world, it’s time to think about your own neighborhood. Which streets would you close to through-traffic, install bike lanes, or expand sidewalks in and around Pittsburgh? Let us know! Tweet us at @BikePGH.


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