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COVID-19: Vancouver mulls street closures to boost physical distancing

Click to play video 'Stanley Park being closed to cars' Stanley Park being closed to cars
To help ensure social distancing, the Vancouver Park Board is closing Stanley Park to vehicle traffic, with the exception of the viaduct. Park roads will be designated for cyclists, allowing for walkers and joggers to safely use the seawall. Nadia Stewart reports.

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart says the city is looking at closing some streets to vehicles to give pedestrians and cyclists more space for social distancing.

Earlier this month, the city worked with the park board to close Stanley Park to vehicle traffic as well as close eastbound lanes on Beach Avenue, along English Bay, from Hornby Street to Stanley Park Drive.

Calling the closures “incredibly successful,” Stewart said Wednesday that the changes are allowing more people stay active during the COVID-19 pandemic.

READ MORE: Vancouver runners find alternate routes amid COVID-19 as officials discourage Seawall use

“Depending on what health officers suggest, we can move forward with extra space for people to stretch their legs or to pedal, to get the kind of physical and mental breaks you need from what is a very stressful situation for everybody,” he said.

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Staff have made a list of popular walking streets that are being considered for closure, and will consult with local businesses to ensure they aren’t negatively affected.
Click to play video 'Stanley Park seawall closed to bikes but should runners stay off too during pandemic?' Stanley Park seawall closed to bikes but should runners stay off too during pandemic?
Stanley Park seawall closed to bikes but should runners stay off too during pandemic?

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said it’s critical for people in urban areas to spend time outdoors while observing public-health rules.

“If we’re having challenges in certain parks and certain areas, we need to look at — with our municipal planners, with the bylaw officers — how we make it so it is easier to maintain those physical distances,” Henry told her daily news conference on Tuesday.

“And there are some things that we know are really helpful, like having one-way routes around parks and beaches and other places. Also, closing roads so that we have more space for people.”

READ MORE: Cities face growing calls to expand streets, re-open parks amid COVID-19 outbreak

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Larry Frank, director of the Health and Community Design Lab at UBC’s School of Population and Public Health, said Vancouver’s topography and gridded street system are ideal for encouraging active transportation such as walking and cycling.

The system of bike routes and greenways are good candidates for closure, he said.

“Why go to other streets?” he said. “We’ve already got these streets designated for active transportation and for a period of time, they may be only for active transportation.”

Coun. Lisa Dominato said the city could post signs on certain bike routes and greenways that would simply deter traffic.

READ MORE: B.C. social distancing measures could remain in place for more than a year

“It doesn’t necessarily have to be a full closure. This could be just about re-allocating — re-designating some of this space to enable pedestrians and cyclists to have more space.”

Dominato noted that several cities around the world, including London, Mexico City, and Bogotá, Colombia have taken measures to open up streets to pedestrians.

She said similar measures are needed in Vancouver, where many residents live in apartments and condos with little to no access to private green space.

Click to play video 'B.C. social distancing measures could remain in place for more than a year' B.C. social distancing measures could remain in place for more than a year
B.C. social distancing measures could remain in place for more than a year

Both Dominato and Frank said they’ve seen pedestrians walking in the middle of the street to avoid others on busy sidewalks.

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“I think that’s happening all the time,” Frank said. “It’s organic, it’s natural. There’s all this space, very few cars. So we’re just wandering into the streets and feeling pretty safe doing it.

“It’s kind of opening up people’s minds about the ability to get around in Vancouver through human power and there’s there’s a lot of benefit to that.”