What we need from our streets will change at different moments throughout the COVID-19 crisis.
We will use our streets differently during moments of emergency response than we may as restrictions are changed. Underlying structural vulnerabilities in different neighborhoods may require governments to provide more or more-specialized services in some areas than in others. Needs will differ on neighborhood streets with primarily houses or apartments and schools compared with needs on major thoroughfares where office, retail, or institutional uses may predominate. The phases of this pandemic may not follow a predictable sequence and cities should be prepared to employ different strategies in non-linear fashions as necessary. Considering all these factors will be key to nimble, strategic policy response today, tomorrow, and throughout our recovery.
For example, strategies that allow people to safely access essential services without traveling long distances are paramount. During emergency response phases and in the long-term recovery phases to come, cities can support their residents by rapidly reconfiguring streets to slow motor vehicle speeds in residential areas and along neighborhood commercial corridors. These changes ensure that people can safely get the goods and services they need while staying in close proximity to their homes. Streets can transform into new spaces, helping people to access food, information, local options for play and exercise, and medical and testing services, without requiring them to get on transit or drive. Quick-build materials—for example, signs, cones, and saw-horse barricades—will be essential tools to roll out these types of projects as quickly as needed.
During periods of stabilization and long-term recovery, when restrictions are relaxed and businesses are starting to re-open but a vaccine is not yet developed or widespread, cities will need to focus on how to help people maintain physical distance while moving around the city. Transit-only lanes will be essential to ensure that buses can move freely and frequently, allowing people to use transit without fear of overcrowding. Expanded sidewalks, speed management strategies, and protected bike lane networks will be necessary to keep people safe as vehicular traffic returns. Stores, markets, and restaurants will need outdoor space for seating and queuing in order to stay financially solvent. Schools, libraries, venues, and religious and cultural institutions may need outdoor space to safely conduct classes and programming or provide essential social services. Interim and permanent materials—for example, rubber and precast concrete curbs, paint, delineators, planters, and jersey barriers—will be key tools to develop and maintain these projects over time.