April 11, 2020

Physical Distancing during COVID-19 - Part 2

Happy Easter long weekend! The idea of closing traffic lanes or parking to allow physical distancing during COVID-19 has been really catching on around the world. Since my last update about the car ban at High Park, I have heard of eight Canadian cities that have adopted some form of traffic lane or parking closure on their streets.
Even Brampton got the message on traffic lane closures. Why can't Toronto? (via Lisa Stokes)
  • Calgary
  • Winnipeg
  • London
  • Vancouver
  • Montréal
  • Kitchener
  • Brampton
  • Edmonton
Gil Meslin created a useful thread about these cities while Dr. Tab Combs created a crowd sourced list of cities around the world which took (or considered) some form of COVID-19 action.
Bridge closure in London, Ontario (via Scott Clark)
While I respect the tireless work done by Toronto Public Health so far, I am disappointed they and Mayor John Tory have so far stuck to their original refusal to consider closing traffic lanes over some serious misconceptions. The argument appears to be falsely framed as calling for an all out closure of Yonge Street and other streets in an Open Streets fashion which the City claims would lead to congregating and go against the idea of physical distancing. The City has also been sticking with this “stay home” message; something a fair number of people have mentioned to me when criticizing this idea.

Toronto’s pedestrian and cycling advocates are NOT calling for all out street closures. Instead, they are calling for partial closures involving traffic lanes and/or parking while still allowing motorists to use the roads in a way that is safer for everyone and mitigates the recent increase in COVID-19 attributed speeding incidents. The purpose of these traffic closures is not to encourage congregating, but to allow for physical distancing when walking or biking for essential transport. While people are still encouraged to stay home as much as possible, health care and other essential workers still have to get to work while everyone needs to get groceries and daily exercise (which itself is encouraged through public health guidelines).
One of the Toronto Public Health posters encouraging the practice of physical distancing
Even though there is a strong case in favour of closing traffic lanes, there is also a need to be careful with our messaging so it is done in a way that maintains respect for Toronto Public Health. One great example of respectful messaging is found in this open letter epidemiologists Anne Harris and Linda Rothman sent to the Mayor and Dr. Eileen de Villa (Toronto’s medical officer of health).

As for what pedestrian and cycling advocates – among others – can do, I personally encourage them to e-mail the Mayor (mayor_tory@toronto.ca), their local City Councillors, and Toronto Public Health (publichealth@toronto.ca) urging them to reconsider their position on street closures. I also encourage them to keep up the pressure through their own blogs (if they have one), letters to the editor (here are some Kathleen Mackey of 32 Spokes and I have done recently), social media (tag @JohnTory, @epdevilla & @TOPublicHealth on Twitter), and discussions with friends and colleagues. When taking action, please focus on the facts and refrain from outright personal attacks. This is a constantly evolving situation and we need to remind ourselves we are all in this together when fighting COVID-19.

For those who want to learn more about cycling during COVID-19, I will close off with this post from Cycle Toronto which has some good resources.

Stay safe!
Rob Z (e-mail)

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