I have been writing about Open Streets, and how they are being used Post-Covid to make accessing services more comfortable for walkers, rollers and cyclists going to shops and services. There’s also a positive impact of Open Streets for businesses. Open Streets allow for wider sidewalk areas, making customers feel better about standing in line to access a business with appropriate physical distancing. This provides enough space to wait on the street without getting too close to someone simply walking by on a sidewalk.
The term “Open Streets’ refers to temporarily closing streets to through traffic, but filtering necessary local traffic, emergency vehicles, public transit, pedestrians, rollers and cyclists. Open Streets also provide separate road space for traditional sidewalk users who are going at a different pace than cyclists. Creating Open Streets also allows commercial businesses to use more of the sidewalk or the road way to conduct their business given the new physical distancing requirements.
There has been a concern that while the concept of open streets to facilitate movement during Covid times was admirable, what would happen if open streets became permanent? And isn’t that bad for business?
This is the truth about Open Streets. If people are accessing services through a filtered network that allows for expanded space for only transit, walkers, rollers and cyclists, each of those individuals represent one less vehicle on the road. Vehicle drivers win because there is less congestion.
And the data shows that businesses win too. This study done by Transport for London shows that people walking, rolling and cycling and using public transport spend 40 percent more each month than car drivers. These numbers have also been replicated in studies in Toronto and in New York City.
In London time spent on retail streets increased by 216% between shopping, patronizing local cafes and sitting on street benches. Retail space vacancies also declined by 17%.
There is also an interest in thinking through shops and services at a local neighbourhood scale too where sidewalks are less crowded. These areas could also benefit from Open Streets. As local historian John Atkin notes on twitter “Thinking city structure, sidewalk crowding, community & ‘bubbles’. Lose exclusionary zoning, allow local retail pockets so we don’t overload the arterials. I haven’t had to trek outside Strathcona because we have 2 great shops + coffee to walk to.”
Creating “bubbles” of services within an easy walking or biking distance in each neighbourhood adds a level of local resiliency. It’s something we have zoned out of areas, making existing non-conforming retail pockets~like the one at 33rd and Blenheim in Dunbar~such an asset. The ability to access these commercial areas safely with cycle, walking or transit a priority would be a neighbourhood asset.
While cities around the world are developing filtered streets to accommodate the post Covid recovery, that’s no plan from Vancouver yet.
Here’s another example of great work in the City of Newcastle Great Britain as written by Carlton Reid with Forbes.com. Newcastle which is bisected by a highway system wanted to “reassert the supremacy of the city over its traffic.” They embraced the chance to make a downtown plan that was “not anti-car, but pro-city”, ensuring that residents could easily and comfortably use their downtown and related businesses. Here’s how they did it.
Their Open Street temporary changes include widening sidewalks, reallocating road space for walking and cycling, and creating space for lining up for business access. Motor vehicles will have one way usage of the road space, giving sidewalk users five more meters of space. Pocket parks will be tucked into road spaces, and vehicular traffic speed will be reduced. Dependent on the effectiveness of these measures, they will be extended into neighbourhoods across the city in 2021.
In the words of Newcastle Council member Nick Forbes: It’s important that our immediate focus is on how people can safely move around with proper social distancing and space to walk and cycle, which people are choosing to do in increasing numbers. We will be looking closely at how these short term and essential measures that we are introducing now can help us move towards the city that we want future generations to be able to enjoy.”
That’s how City Council can support a resilient post-Covid city that lets residents and businesses thrive.
Below the before and the after for Newcastle’s commercial Grey Street.