Close The Roads to Open The Country

Extreme times call for extreme measures.  If we want to see the country recover from Covid-19, it’s time to close the roads.

Not all roads. Some. A few.

It sure would make bike riding greater. And by greater, I mean a bit easier for those who already ride, and much, much easier for those who would like to ride, whether it’s for exercise or commuting  Data is already in; fewer crashes, fewer deaths, and much less pollution. As it is, people are buying so many bikes, we could be in for a bike shortage in the near future.

But enough about the more selfish goals. Closed roads will be good for the nation.

In rural areas, close roads in commercial downtowns. In suburban areas, close roads in commercial downtowns and those in quiet residential areas. In urban areas, close roads that are commercial strips, quiet areas, and around parks.  Think social distancing, think safe outings, think exercise.

By closing roads in commercial areas, space will be given to let eateries and beverage shops seat people a distance apart outside and allow people space to exercise and socialize. Amherst, MA is relaxing zoning rules so restaurants can seat people outside and let retailers have goods outside. Design guy David Rockwell has unveiled plans for outdoor restaurant seating, including the utilization of street parking spaces.   Los Angeles is getting in on the game, too. As Slate’s Henry Grabar points out, in many places, restaurants are supposed to have more space for parking than seating.

Here’s a video from Streetsblog.

By closing roads near parks, crowded park areas will have more room for people to exercise and socialize. Thanks to the shutdown, parks are getting crowded, with police having to turn people away from full parking lots. In New York City, the warm weather has brought an onslaught of locals spending more time in the parks. Across the country, National Parks have been closing to avoid overcrowding. Missouri, too. Locally, I’ve seen police turning people away from full parking lots in parks and trailheads, and attempting to block off the roadway shoulders near entrances and exits, so people don’t just park there and go in.

By closing some residential streets, exercising and socializing will more easily take place. Seattle is closing 20 miles of roads. Oakland, 74 miles. Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Madison, are three more places where they’re starting to close roads. New York City, which shouldn’t be outdone by any American city, considering that most of the population doesn’t own cars, is looking to close 100 miles of streets.

The point is to give people more space to get outside to be active and engaged with the economy while social distancing. For those without cars, and many people who live in urban areas are either too poor to own a car or choose to live without one, it provides them with space in which they can safely socialize, shop, walk, run, or ride. Even those with cars who live in urban area can benefit because they probably don’t want to go to the gym as it’s closed and nearby parks are also closed.

It’s also a benefit to a third group of people. Those who live in suburban or exurban areas who don’t have access to exercise space. This group is probably quite numerous, as many suburban and exurban areas were designed around driving—that homes are merely connected to other places via roads. In these places, sidewalks are a rarity and don’t go far, and roads are too busy to safely walk on.

The cost of doing this seems rather low. People aren’t going to be flocking to shop and dine when orders first get lifted. Few businesses will be affected, as most are not “essential” and are already closed. Some barriers, a few police, that’s it.

The benefits, even to those workplaces that are now cut-off from car traffic could be great. Having people walk around and see your shuttered business is an advertisement to come back when things start opening up again.

Cool fact. People who live on quieter streets leave their window more often and socialize more.

Roads that go into downtown areas are effectively redundant roads. While they go places, there are also roads that go around those downtown areas, designed or effectively used as byways for people who don’t want to deal with the traffic of downtown.

I’m thinking of a road like Broadway in New York City. It runs the length of Manhattan Island, but it takes a diagonal route from Union Square and 14th street to 107th street where West End Avenue joins up with it. In between, it doesn’t follow the city’s grid system and the other north-south roads render it basically unnecessary.

Similarly, Park Avenue from 14th street to the Bronx could be seen as unnecessary as well, as Madison Avenue, just to its west and Lexington Avenue just to its east go to the same places.

In many small towns, those that are on ostensibly “busy” roads, there are often “bypass” or “truck routes” that go around the downtown. Those can stay. The roads in the middle of town can be closed. Yes, people may have to walk a few blocks, but, there, too, is a health benefit.

Close the roads to open the country.

Share your thoughts.