Toronto take note: Let’s Use Streets to Improve Cities

I live in Toronto where cars are king and everything else deserves to be banned from the road, heck we rip up bike lanes while other cities grow their bicycle networks (and we’re spending millions on a highway that gets fewer users than a bus route). Toronto has been shamefully slow in reusing streets for people during the COVID-19 pandemic. Cities around the world have closed streets to car traffic and made life better for people who need more physical space so the disease won’t spread as easily. In Toronto we’ve closed parks and told people to walk single file on sidewalks while car traffic is down by 70%. basically, shame on Toronto.

What are good cities doing about this? They’re banning cars and using streets as a public space instead of a strip of land dedicated to moving single occupant vehicles. Some cities are considering making these changes permanent as the quality of life benefit from banning automobiles is quick to see and fall in love with.

Like many others in New York City, I live in an apartment that’s about 250 square feet. It’s a lot harder for me to abide by the same orders as people in sprawling suburban McMansions. Our sole escape is the public spaces that typically fill beyond any ability to socially distance on warm days. When people are stuck at home, and so many other establishments are closed—our libraries, museums, gyms, pools, restaurants—the parks are already more crowded than usual. Even the Green-Wood Cemetery has threatened to close because of overcrowding by people in search of spaces to walk. The situation stands to create a viral tinderbox that will ignite New York in the heat of the summer. To propose that the solution is to limit the use of these already precious public spaces is the inverse of a solution.

Open the streets. Open at least half of them. If we do not have enough police to enforce temporary closure to traffic, then open them semipermanently with concrete barriers. Open other streets permanently. Dynamite the asphalt, sod the land, plant trees and flowers, and do not look back.

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