One of the results of the lockdowns is the greatly reduced traffic on the streets. This has resulted in huge reductions in smog levels in cities that used to be plagued with poor air quality. But it has also resulted in some drivers taking advantage to speed. Some cities are now going further and shutting down traffic entirely on some streets, except for pedestrians and cyclists.
One such effort is in the city of Oakland, California that has shut down 74 miles of city streets, labeling them ‘slow streets’, to enable residents to use them to get outdoors and exercise while maintaining the appropriate distance from others and avoiding congesting the city’s parks and other recreational areas. The road will still be open to residents who live there.
Roughly 11% of the city’s land is made up of 6,000 acres of parks – streets and sidewalks make up an additional 20% to 30%, said a city official, adding that the city wanted to take advantage of its space for the expected sunny, holiday weekend.
The news was especially welcomein East Oakland, a neighborhood historically overlooked and impoverished, residents said at a press conference about the initiative on Friday. Many East Oakland residents continue to work, despite the shelter-in-place orders, said one community advocate, often walking to their jobs to do so. Any effort to make streets safer is good news for the community, he said.
Other cities around the world have instituted similar programs.
This is yet another example of the kinds of innovations and natural experiments that the pandemic has enabled. The real question is what happens after the lockdown ends. Do we just go back to where we were before? Or do we realize that we can do better in terms of the quality of life that city living affords?