Reallocating our Streets

A lot has changed in the past month with the ever-evolving COVID-19 public health situation. We are all adjusting to this new normal—where we are taking a little more care of each other by being physically distant (at least two metres to be exact).

Another way to visualize this:
  • the length of a 🚲
  • one Don Iveson

*Add little more to either end of these, just to be safe

Source: unknown

Edmonton’s changing transportation needs

Most Edmontonians are no longer commuting for work or travelling for non-essential purposes.

A very apparent effect of this is our transportation system has much lower volumes of traffic than usual.

However, we still have a very real need to be physically active and outside of our homes.

It’s well-documented that physical activity supports:

For the time being, current public health measures allow us to be outside, unless you:

  • are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19
  • tested positive for COVID-19
  • have been in contact with someone who has either of the above

We’ve noticed that, with so many of us hunkered down, lots of people are taking to the sidewalks and paths of our city—for exercise and fresh air and distraction. 

But to do this safely, we need to re-evaluate how we think about Edmonton’s transportation system in our new normal.

Re-evaluating how we allocate streets

Many sidewalks and shared-use paths are simply not wide enough to accommodate physical distancing measures for those who are riding a bike, walking, or using a mobility device.

Cities all over the world are ensuring the people can get around actively in a safe manner by opening up the street to people who are walking, rolling, or biking. This ensures people can be physically distant from one another while they are active and outside.

Paths for People believes all Edmontonians should have access to paths, routes, or sidewalks that provide enough space for us to be physically distant from one another.

How Edmonton can make streets people-focused

This requires reallocating some public spaces in order to adjust to our new transportation reality. 

There are many ways to accomplish this:
  • Opening up lanes typically used by motor vehicle traffic, to people who are getting around actively.
  • Reutilizing empty on-street parking spots as excess space for pedestrians, cyclists, and those getting around with mobility aids.
  • Ensure cul-de-sacs and local roads are treated as shared spaces for vehicles and people too.

It’s NOT one size fits all

Context matters when opening up the street for people.

It’s important to keep in mind that although people may be using these wider sidewalks or paths to be physically active, many also rely on active modes to reach essential services.

Reallocating our streets should facilitate access to:
  • grocery stores
  • pharmacies
  • medical facilities
  • other essential services
  • high-density areas or areas that provide views of the river valley will have more users

The space provided for active transportation should match the amount of people using those spaces.

We also need to ensure that we don’t overwhelm a strained municipality’s capacity to safely facilitate this “re-allocated roadway” experience. There are only so many pylons.

Long-lasting Lessons

This pandemic has been very disruptive for our communities. However, amidst this disruption are opportunities to rethink the way we use our transportation system. Streets will be more vibrant and safe if we design them to move people and not just motor vehicles.

These re-allocated lanes may be a temporary experiment, but we can learn long-lasting lessons about how we build our transportation system.

UPDATE: On Wednesday, April 8, 2020 the City of Edmonton announced they will be adjusting push buttons at pedestrian crossings and allocating some roadways for shared use, effective Thursday (April 9).

We’re encouraged by this and think more is possible.

These two small pilots in allocation, on the Promenade above Victoria Golf Course and along a four-block stretch of Saskatchewan Drive.

These projects total 1.3 km⁠—that’s less than 0.1% of Edmonton’s total 10,000km of roadways.

These 1.3 km are a start, but they’re nowhere near what’s needed.

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.

Further, accessing these two current 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.