January 13, 2022

Impermanence and the pandemic: Street design evolves

Two years into the pandemic.  Responses and innovations in street use have been tried out, tested and are now evolving.  CityLab reports on one:


Here are the takeaways:

Only a handful of pandemic-era street closures in U.S. cities have been made permanent, according to Cornell researchers Stephan Schmidt and Yuqing Zhang: They looked at 63 programs across 35 states and found that 94% lasted less than six months.

But the end of Ocean Drive’s car-free phase could still herald a more a more pedestrian-forward future. This month, new two-way bike lanes are being painted green, and there’s a plan to install protective infrastructure around them later this year; the city is also working with designers to create a permanent pedestrian plaza on the block that will stay closed to cars.

The idea of a ‘permanent’ design solution is likely an illusion.  Even a closed street evolves during the day, not to mention with the seasons, and so should the interventions:

Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, a professor of architecture at the University of Miami, envisions a more flexible configuration for the popular street, one where Ocean Drive’s pedestrians and cars coexist flexibly depending on time of day and week. Think car-free Sunday mornings, extra space for restaurant tables on weekday evenings, and afternoons for cruising in convertibles. “We’re so used to the engineering being kind of deterministic,” she said. But it doesn’t have to be.

A single street is not a solution:

Longer term, the city plans to embark on a comprehensive urban redesign that puts pedestrians at the fore — not only on Ocean Drive, but across South Beach’s Art Deco district. By making nearby streets more appealing to walkers, Ocean Drive will be under less pressure to accommodate crowds alone.


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