As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to do profound damage around the world, cities are working to find to safeguard public health while providing residents with access to fresh air and exercise. Meanwhile, struggling businesses are seeking outdoor access so that they can operate in a safe way.
All of this has led cities around the world to reinvent how they allocate outdoor space. More than ever before, cities are prioritizing cyclists and pedestrians in urban areas, and in many cases they are closing lanes or entire roadways to make this happen. More inspiring still, some cities are working to make these changes permanent.
From Milan to Philadelphia, Toronto to Boston, cities are experimenting with a wide variety of measures – re-purposing parking space, eliminating “beg buttons,” creating outdoor dining zones, converting streets away from cars, expanding bike lanes and making bikeshare systems free.
After a rocky start, we’re pleased to see Ottawa get in on the action.
We’ve come a long way. In March 2020, Mayor Jim Watson avoided any commitment to implement a city-wide policy for this initiative, and recommended that funding for safer streets come from councillors’ small office budgets, as opposed to general municipal funds. Two months later, he intervened to block plans to open Bank Street to make safe space for pedestrians.
Despite these measures, various councillors, the NCC and various Business Improvement Areas have been making consistent headway. We are now seeing street closures in a a growing number of neighbourhoods across Ottawa.
The City of Ottawa has opportunities to go further. With physical distancing measures set to extend into the foreseeable future, now is the time to ramp up efforts to make safer spaces for pedestrians and cyclists on Ottawa’s roads. It’s also the time to consider which of these pedestrian- and bike-friendly changes can be made permanent.