COVID-19

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

Jack Stewart Apr 13, 2020
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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
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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

What’s the latest on the extra COVID-19 unemployment benefits?

As of now, those $600-a-week payments will stop at the end of July. For many, unemployment payments have been a lifeline, but one that is about to end, if nothing changes. The debate over whether or not to extend these benefits continues among lawmakers.

With a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases, are restaurants and bars shutting back down?

The latest jobs report shows that 4.8 million Americans went back to work in June. More than 30% of those job gains were from bars and restaurants. But those industries are in trouble again. For example, because of the steep rise in COVID-19 cases in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, increased restrictions on restaurant capacities and closed bars. It’s created a logistical nightmare.

Which businesses got Paycheck Protection Program loans?

The numbers are in — well, at least in part. The federal government has released the names of companies that received loans of $150,000 or more through the Paycheck Protection Program.

Some of the companies people are surprised got loans include Kanye West’s fashion line, Yeezy, TGI Fridays and P.F. Chang’s. The companies you might not recognize, particularly some smaller businesses, were able to hire back staff or partially reopen thanks to the loans.

You can find answers to more questions on unemployment benefits and COVID-19 here.

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