COVID-19

With fewer cars on the road, some cities make more space for walking

Jack Stewart Apr 13, 2020
HTML EMBED:
COPY
Empty highways and streets during rush hour in car-dependent Los Angeles on April 6. Mario Tama/Getty Images
COVID-19

With fewer cars on the road, some cities make more space for walking

Jack Stewart Apr 13, 2020
Empty highways and streets during rush hour in car-dependent Los Angeles on April 6. Mario Tama/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

If you tried to go out for a walk or run over the weekend, you may have run into a problem maintaining 6 feet of social distancing. 

When sidewalks aren’t that wide — and getting crowded — it’s tough to keep a decent amount of space between you and other people. Some cities are experimenting with closing streets to cars to allow more room for cyclists and pedestrians. That could change the way we think about our cities.

For example, the car is king here in Los Angeles. But over the last few weeks, while we’ve been staying at home, so has the king — in our garages and driveways. 

I’m on Hollywood Boulevard, where there are six lanes for cars. On a Monday, this would normally be packed. Today, although there’s some traffic, it’s light. But pedestrians are still squeezing past one another on a sidewalk that’s maybe 8 feet wide if you don’t have to duck around the trees and benches and bus stops. 

This past weekend, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf closed 74 miles of streets to through traffic in what she called “an effort to give Oaklanders space to spread out.”

Philadelphia, Minneapolis and Denver are among the other places trying something similar. 

So is Boston, where Jonathan Berk, an advocate for walkable urban communities at Patronicity, took advantage of a closed street on Saturday.

“It was not packed, but well-spaced out with rollerbladers, bikers, walkers, pedestrians,” Berk said.

He said New Zealand is out ahead of other countries — the government is funding every city to make changes.

“They’re viewing this, rightfully so, as an opportunity to say, ‘We can rearrange our land-use patterns in downtown to allow for more space for people to move safely, go back into restaurants, bars, stores, and to start moving the economy again,’ ” Berk said.

Closing streets doesn’t have to cost a lot, according to Brent Toderian, a city planner and urbanist and former chief planner for Vancouver, Canada. 

“This pandemic has really revealed how little space we actually have in many cities for people because of all the space we’ve given to cars,” Toderian said.

And with urban dwellers stuck in small apartments, it’s highlighting how important public space is. 

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Pfizer said early data show its coronavirus vaccine is effective. So what’s next?

In the last few months, Pfizer and its partner BioNTech have shared other details of the process including trial blueprints, the breakdown of the subjects and ethnicities and whether they’re taking money from the government. They’re being especially transparent in order to try to temper public skepticism about this vaccine process. The next big test, said Jennifer Miller at the Yale School of Medicine, comes when drug companies release their data, “so that other scientists who the public trust can go in, replicate findings, and communicate them to the public. And hopefully build appropriate trust in a vaccine.”

How is President-elect Joe Biden planning to address the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic turmoil it’s created?

On Nov. 9, President-Elect Joe Biden announced three co-chairs of his new COVID-19 task force. But what kind of effect might this task force have during this transition time, before Biden takes office? “The transition team can do a lot to amplify and reinforce the messages of scientists and public health experts,” said Dr. Kelly Moore, associate director for the Immunization Action Coalition. Moore said Biden’s COVID task force can also “start talking to state leaders and other experts about exactly what they need to equip them to roll out the vaccines effectively.”

What does slower retail sales growth in October mean for the economy?

It is a truism that we repeat time and again at Marketplace: As goes the U.S. consumer, so goes the U.S. economy. And recently, we’ve been seeing plenty of signs of weakness in the consumer economy. Retail sales were up three-tenths of a percent in October, but the gain was weaker than expected and much weaker than September’s. John Leer, an economist at Morning Consult, said a lack of new fiscal stimulus from Congress is dampening consumers’ appetite to spend. So is the pandemic.

Read More

Collapse

As a nonprofit news organization, our future depends on listeners like you who believe in the power of public service journalism.

Your investment in Marketplace helps us remain paywall-free and ensures everyone has access to trustworthy, unbiased news and information, regardless of their ability to pay.

Donate today — in any amount — to become a Marketplace Investor. Now more than ever, your commitment makes a difference.