The COVID-19 crisis has led to cities reimagining public space to promote social distancing. With traditional public gathering and socialization spots closed or heavily restricted, millions of people needed outdoor, open space that was limited. Additionally, businesses needed to reopen without risking the transmission of COVID-19. With the decrease in vehicular traffic as a result of work from home and lockdowns, open streets were a great solution for promoting social distancing and enabling small businesses to survive.
However, as a COVID-19 vaccine comes out, open streets and restaurants should be re-evaluated in a broader context. While outdoor dining and open streets have been met with rave reviews, the “emergency” nature of al-fresco implementations means that many open streets suffer from understaffing or under enforcing. On a similar note, outdoor dining has restricted sidewalk space, and sometimes has made curbside parking hard to find. Perhaps most striking is the lack of open streets or restaurants in less affluent neighborhoods. Like other “sustainable infrastructure” plans, al-fresco streets and corridors appear to exist primarily in gentrified or upscale neighborhoods. For long-term open streets programs, cities and planning agencies should analyze the community-building and equity implications of a permanent shift towards open streets.
We generated building blocks for Open Streets planning in the United States that we hope DOTs can use
We explored the impacts that Open Streets had on pedestrian and bicycle levels courtesy of Streetlight Data, and expanded on the capabilites of Streetlight Data to advise DOTs on planning for Open Streets.
Open Streets Presentation presented at ITE Annual Conference in July 2021