More Space needed for Safe Physical Distancing

After weeks of below average temperatures combined with unprecedented isolation, Edmontonians are desperate to get outside to:

  • walk
  • stroll
  • roll
  • pedal

With spring in the air, people are flocking to sidewalks, multi-use paths, and residential streets of our city for some fresh air and exercise.

But is Edmonton ready for this? We don’t think so.

But we could be, if the City takes quick action.

What Edmonton can do

Municipal governments have the power to temporarily allocate public space to create much-needed room for the many people who want to move within the city outdoors while maintaining a safe distance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Examples from around the world

This is already happening in cities across North America and around the world.

Public space is being made available to the large numbers of people of all ages getting around by walking, cycling, and mobility devices of various kinds.

How the streets can be allocated

In some cases, this means:

  • temporarily removing an on-street parking lane that is no longer needed.
  • removing drive lanes that are suddenly under-capacity with so many people staying home. 

Edmonton has made a start

Last week, the City of Edmonton launched two small pilots in allocation:

  • on the Promenade above Victoria Golf Course (another one is planned for Victoria Park Road, linking 100 Avenue with the river valley)
  • along a four-block stretch of Saskatchewan Drive.

These projects total about 2.5 km

That’s less than 0.1% of Edmonton’s total 10,000km of roadways.

These 2.5 km are a start, to be sure, but they’re nowhere near what’s needed.

It’s not about creating destinations

We don’t want these areas to be unique destinations prompting Edmontonians to travel long distances to visit them.

Instead they need to be implemented in many more locations across the city, giving residents the ability to adhere to calls to stay close to home, while still maintaining their physical and mental health outdoors. 

Space for all Edmontonians

Further, accessing these three currently allocated spaces or the river valley isn’t an option for all Edmontonians, especially folks with mobility issues and our city’s vulnerable populations. Lower income residents tend to live in smaller homes/apartments without backyards, increasing their need for space close by to get outdoors and to essential services.

We need an equitable approach to this, so all Edmontonians have safe places in their neighbourhoods. 

Our pathways are too narrow

It’s true that Edmonton has lots of sidewalks and a remarkable system of multi-use pathways that pedestrians and others can take advantage of. But if you’ve tried using any of these during the COVID-19 pandemic, you’ve probably noticed that they’re simply not wide enough to maintain sufficient distance from others.

Most of Edmonton’s sidewalks are 1.8 metres wide.

While some people can shift to the grass or road when passing, not everyone can.

Our pedestrian pathways are just not wide enough to allow safe physical distancing. But our roads are.

Solutions possible now

So let’s allocate more road space where it’s most needed.

Possible locations

Let’s devote the on-street parking portions of:

  • Whyte Avenue
  • Jasper Avenue
  • Alberta Avenue
  • 124 Street

Let’s free up space on some under-capacity arterials like:

  • Riverbend Road
  • Millwoods Road
  • 153 Avenue

Let’s allocate some space on scenic routes like:

  • Ada Boulevard
  • River Valley Road
  • the loop in Hawrelak Park

We conducted a public survey and we collected feedback from city residents. This is what we found out:

The overwhelming response about traffic signals for pedestrians is to automate the buttons across the entire city. This is because the coronavirus can live 2-3 days on plastic surfaces, making it impossible to know when it’s safe to use the buttons.

Quick and inexpensive

We recognize that this is a difficult time for municipal governments, with unprecedented strains on budgets and resources. But the allocations that Edmontonians need to be able to get around actively outside are low-cost ventures–using simple, inexpensive materials, with a big-time impact:

  • pylons
  • temporary barriers
  • signage

As the days warm up, Edmontonians are going to need more public space, and our City government can help create it.