Positive Planning Practices for the Pandemic: Five Examples

Updated: Jan 29, 2021

As the pandemic has progressed, planners have been experimenting with measures that lower the spread of the virus and address the negative economic impacts that have resulted. While urban life may not yet be able to go on as usual, many people still need to go to work and also spend leisure time outside their homes. This post details five temporary, easily implemented urban design solutions that allow residents to travel and relax more safely and comfortably during this stressful time, and help make life feel a bit more normal.

Creative Reuse of Car-Centric Outdoor Spaces

Many people are working remotely and driving far less than usual. The number of vehicle miles driven in May was 25.5% less than last year, according to the National Safety Council. While that’s great in many ways, less cars on the road has unfortunately caused those who are driving to behave more erratically. The same National Safety Council study also found that the fatality rate per miles driven in May jumped 23.5% from 2019. Not only is more space needed to accommodate the increased number of pedestrians and cyclists on urban roadways, but it’s vitally important that these spaces be safe for all road users. The following urban design interventions help provide safe spaces on roadways without requiring infrastructure investment, only requiring a shift in how cities prioritize public road space.

Transportation independence is vital, meaning people can travel to their destination without worrying about their risk of exposure or hassle. One way to ensure that is through ensuring streets are accessible for all forms of transit and less congested, especially because a study found a strong association between car commuting and the growth in cases in New York City. However, as public transit funding is scarce and expanding service is out of the question for many cities with increasingly tight budgets, short-term solutions must focus on increasing accessibility for forms of micromobility such as cycling, walking, and skating.

One movement that has been addressing this in recent months is the Slow Streets initiative, with the goal of reducing vehicle speeds to make streets safer for walking, biking, and running through temporary measures such as the installation of barriers, signage, and designating certain streets for local traffic only. It has been implemented in cities around the US, including Columbus, with the recognition that the majority of trips are short and close to home, making a car unnecessary. And during the pandemic, with so many stuck at home, cycling and walking has greatly increased. A number of the following design initiatives have been implemented as part of Slow Streets, such as road closures and overflow sidewalk space.