April 9, 2020

How We Safely Space on a Street

It’s near the height of cherry blossom season, there are only so many beautiful springs in one’s life, and we really need this one now.

To safely use the glorious green spaces of Vancouver (this weekend with pink!) Vancouverites want to know how to space themselves.  Greenways are ideal – those streets where vehicle traffic is so minimal that runners with watches, parents with baby carriages, skateboarders with small electric motors, grandparents with walkers, kids with their first bikes, dogs with leashes, and everyone with a camera, i.e. everyone, can all sort themselves out with sufficient distance and politeness that everyone feels they are getting the most out of a beautiful spring day without endangering themselves or others.

It would be nice to have a poster which shows the appropriate distances and etiquette.  But I don’t think the City or health authorities quite know what that is.  They’re waiting to see what people actually do before they make decisions about how they should do it.  When it comes to designating road space, with a few exceptions, the City seems a bit paralyzed.  At least they’re not indicating so far they that they have any intentions.

So it looks like we will just do it:

hilco Greenway, April 9, 4:10 pm

Five different users: cyclist, runner, observer, dog walker, kid with bike, daddy.  All spaced and sorted in a 66-foot right-of way, a standard West End Street.  There’s not a psychological no-go barrier at the curb for those not in cars.  But there is room for a car if it moves slowly and yields to other users.

My guess: This weekend and on, Vancouverites are going to pour out of their sequestered spaces.  They will take the space they need, as they should, to enjoy the city and maintain their health.  And not spread a virus.

Then the City can respond.

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  1. City officials, planners, landscape architects and urban designers do not currently have sufficient information to safely and responsibly design outdoor space for use during this contagion event. We are learning more and more each day about the transmission details of this particular contagion, the novel covid-19 virus. However, every virus is different, so it is a false notion that we can design a public realm to accommodate………., exactly what in the future?
    This epidemic will come to an end eventually, but in the mean time we are all subject to distancing rules of 2 metres as per Provincial Health Guidelines.
    Buildings are designed with many spaces for socializing and little space for physical distancing. The public realm is likewise designed to facilitate socializing. The seaside walk way- bike way is a combined system. In news reports today we learn of very current research:
    ‘To avoid any chance of being hit by droplets in a slipstream, the researchers recommend that walkers stay at least four to five metres behind the person ahead of them, runners and slow cyclists keep a 10-metre distance, and fast cyclists leave 20 metres of physical distancing space.’

    In statements made prior to this research, Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, has said infection through contact with droplets from a passing runner or cyclist “would not be a common way” for the virus to spread. “Having somebody run by you is a very unlikely way that this would ever be transmitted,” she said.

    1. And yet, here we are following the 2m rule and keeping the spread within manageable numbers. We are currently seeing the results of the distancing measures of one to three weeks ago and in those earliest days there were a lot of people who didn’t quite get it – playing basketball and Frisbee etc. Since then the seawalls have remained busy with people walking and cycling and attempting to maintain 2m but facing moments when that just isn’t possible. And still the numbers of infected remain low.

      There is speculation that asymptomatic infected people represent numbers far higher than the official numbers. And yet, the numbers testing positive have flat lined. If that holds it will show that 2m is plenty and that this virus is not nearly as contagious as requiring larger distances. Indoors is different.

      Obviously the faster one rides a bike the longer the potential contagion trail they leave behind. But the faster one rides the more distance automatically opens up between riders, (This not the time to draft.) Sure – stay even farther apart if you can. Take this thing very seriously. But let’s not succumb to the fears of those who hate cities.