Spacing out how cities apply safe distancing

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Safe distance difficult when walking in crowded streetsCan we keep keeping a safe distance? While the world is on pause, we are looking for silver linings. When it comes to road safety, we note some interesting developments. First, traffic has almost disappeared. Cities around the world have been experimenting with alternative road uses to help people practice safe distancing while allowing for walking or cycling.

The trouble with a two metre rule

Public Health advises safe distancing means keeping 2 metres apart from others. Fine if you live in the suburbs, small towns or rural areas. But the majority of people live in cities. Downtown urban areas can be particularly difficult to keep a safe distance.

Urban geographer, Daniel Rotsztain, demonstrated this to comical effect wearing his social distancing machine he made and wore when going for a walk in Toronto.

Watch video of Urban Geographer Daniel Rotsztain's social distancing machine in action on Toronto streets

Watch video of Urban Geographer Daniel Rotsztain and his social distancing machine on a walk in Toronto

The City of Toronto has been wary of banning cars on downtown streets because it might encourage large gatherings. Spacing out city dwellers has been a notable challenge of the Covid-19 crisis.

Blessed with many urban parks, ravines, walking and biking paths, Toronto is known to be a green city. Still, it is not enough in times like these. As weather warms, people need exercise and escape from confinement. Going for a walk or bike ride is one of the few things we can do to keep fit while safe distancing.

We have especially noticed more parents taking young children on walks, with scooters or on bike rides. They need more room to walk and ride.

We see two ways safe distancing habits we have learned might stick.

Congestion Tax

City of London UK congestion charging helps with safe distancing

London launched congestion charging in 2003

A legacy from the safe distancing habits might be new congestion taxes cities impose on road users. To lessen the vehicles on the road during certain hours, drivers may have to pay to go downtown.

And cities sure could use the revenue.

Nothing new for London, which introduced Congestion Charging in 2003. Using automated plate recognition technology, ultra low emission discounts began in 2019. (Charges were temporarily suspended in March to ensure critical workers could get around.)

Many other European cities, which were not built for vehicles in the first place, have introduced similar schemes. Key to making a congestion tax work  is public transit.

A change to transport pricing will motivate and incentivize people, according to Australian independent road and transit advisory body, Infrastructure Victoria, in their report: “Good Move: Fixing Transport Congestion“. The City of Melbourne, is thinking about introducing a congestion charge. This will work, so long as there is enough public transit alternatives for people to use while safe distancing.

In a post by Monocle, Elliot Fishman of the Melbourne-based Institute for Sensible Transport (we love that name!) identified what city transit authorities must do to make a congestion tax work:

Run services more frequently and introduce price incentives for non-peak travel – Elliot Fishman, Institute for Sensible Transport.

Safe distancing in urban design thinking

Safe distancing while bike riding

Solving safe distancing using city streets free of vehicles is a short term solution for unprecedented times. Another silver lining is how this has got urban planners working out new city street design solutions for safe distancing for congested urban areas in the future. This will no doubt help make city walking and biking tours like those created and hosted the Urban Geographer a much safer and more pleasant experience.

Everyone has noted the quiet streets with little or no traffic. How neighbours are looking out for each other and their communities. We sure like how this has helped make streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists. But we know this is temporary. Let’s not let this experience go to waste.

Stay Safe, Be Alert

Trimtag encourages safe distancing, and if you are driving we urge you to take the time to slow down, find silver linings during tough times. When the timing is right, get in touch about customizing our own BE ALERT road safety program.