In a time when we’re required to maintain physical distance to protect public health, streets need to do more than ever.
Streets must be configured so that people are able to move safely around the city. The mobility needs of essential workers are paramount; we must ensure that the people who provide medical care, food, and the services that allow most of us to stay at home can move safely and efficiently. As we transition slowly from crisis to recovery, our streets must provide better, safer options for everyone. Configuring our streets to support walking, biking, and high-frequency transit will be essential to our economic recovery. These policies are key to ensuring that our streets do not become gridlocked and that we can continue our efforts to reduce roadway fatalities and greenhouse gas emissions.
But, as COVID-19 has made clear, our streets support more than just movement. Around the world, streets are providing space so people can safely access food and essential services. Our streets provide places for queuing outside grocery stores, markets, and essential businesses. As restrictions are lifted, especially prior to full disease containment or the development of a vaccine, streets can provide room for restaurants, vendors, and shops to serve customers outdoors, and for schools and daycares to resume care, allowing businesses to re-open and more people to return, safely, to work.
Our streets are key to our mental, physical, and immunological health. In cities across the globe, streets are places for essential outdoor respite for people without yards or balconies. Streets are fundamental tools in a risk-reduction public health approach that creates space for people to exercise and play in close proximity to their homes, and provides them with the resources they need to realistically comply with physical distancing guidelines. When the first wave of this pandemic wanes, policies that re-envision streets as public spaces can help people safely gather and reduce the traffic injuries and fatalities that will come with increased vehicle use.
Finally, streets in the COVID-19 era provide space for the social services that will allow cities to safely re-open sooner. Streets provide space for pop-up medical and testing locations and distribution points for food and potable water. Streets provide space for WiFi hotspots so children can attend school remotely and people can work from home. As we plan for recovery, streets can be a place where our social supports—schools, libraries, religious and cultural institutions—can safely resume the services and programs that people need.
The streets and cities we see on the other side of the pandemic will be different from the ones we knew a few short months ago. As city and transportation leaders, our job is not to return to the inequitable, dangerous, unsustainable patterns of the past, but to help shape a better future. The streets we create today will provide the foundation for our recovery for years to come.