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April 7, 2020 at 12:59 PM

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COVID-19 Response: FOUR Big Moves to Support Safe and Open Streets

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The COVID-19 pandemic is creating critical challenges for Vancouver’s public spaces, and in particular our sidewalks and recreational routes.

In response, several cities around the world have taken action to reallocate street space for pedestrian and cycling usage. The reallocation of street right-of-way involves taking road space normally allocated to cars and opening it for walking and biking. During normal times, street reallocation work – which goes by several names, including “open streets”, “road dieting”, “complete streets” – is an important means of re-balancing street design to ensure the safety and comfort of people using all modes of travel. Now, with the intense challenges imposed by coronavirus, this approach has become an even more important tool in supporting public safety. Creating safe and open streets for our residents and workers is essential to the well-being of our city.

:: READ Creating Safe and Open Streets for Walking and Biking – VPSN Recommendations – Updated Draft (PDF)

Street reallocation is important because it helps to ensure safe physical distancing measures for residents and workers, enable mobility equity for key neighbourhoods and communities, and support to physical and mental health at a time when regular access to recreation is significantly compromised.

As we noted in an earlier article on the subject, several cities have taken proactive steps in this regard. There have been some new additions in the last few days:

  • Denver, has re-designating over 20km of street right-of-way for walking and biking use;
  • Minneapolis has (to date) the largest North American street reallocation initiative underway, covering approximately 30km of partial and full open streets;
  • Bogota, Columbia created over 75km of new temporary bike lanes to support cycling and walking;
  • Calgary has been testing weekend road reallocations to help residents maintain social distance since late March;
  • Winnipeg is encouraging safe walking and biking by closing four streets to car traffic;
  • Other cities, are discussing or implementing these sorts of strategies, including Toronto, Seattle, Portland, Philadelphia, and Minneapolis.

Here, in Vancouver, the there is a critical need for the City of Vancouver – including elected officials and policy makers at City Hall and the Park Board – to show leadership in the reallocation of street right-of-way for pedestrians and cyclists in order to keep residents and workers safe. To date, some initial moves have been made:

  • Car access to Queen Elizabeth Park and parking at other high destination parks (started: March 22, 2020)
  • Reallocating roadways in Stanley Park (beginning: April 7, 2020)

However, we argue that the process of expanding walking and biking opportunities needs to be more comprehensive. There are four distinct and inter-related areas activities that need to be considered. Each of these requires the reallocation of road space for walk-bike use, but does so with the objective of supporting residents and workers (particularly those employed in essential or front-line services) in different ways. These are focused on providing safe routes for:

  1. Accessing Daily Needs in commercial areas by strategically widening sidewalks in key locations;
  2. Commuting to/from places of work via active transportation modes (i.e. for workers in essential services such as grocery stores, pharmacies, healthcare offices, other critical employment areas); (i.e. shops, healthcare offices, other critical employment areas);
  3. Maintaining Physical and Mental Health – By providing additional space on the Seawall, Greenways, bike routes, neighbourhood designated pedestrian routes, and other pathways – to enable residents across the city to walk and bike for well-being;
  4. Address Neighbourhood and Mobility-based Equity Considerations – by prioritizing areas where these interventions will support residents and workers that are most at risk.

To support the response to COVID-19, we put together a set of recommended approaches to Creating Safe and Open Streets for Walking and Biking in Vancouver. A first draft of this document was released on March 27, 2020, and this version has been revised based on the important feedback we received. The updated document sets out key goals and objectives, as well as an overview of potential tactics, locations, and types of support needed (in other words: the “what”, “why”, “how”, “where”, and “who” of reallocating street space to increase public safety).

We will continue to review and modify the document to reflect best practices around safe and open streets. We welcome any constructive feedback you might have. You can email us at

:: DOWNLOAD Creating Safe and Open Streets for Walking and Biking – VPSN Recommendations (PDF)

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