While Boston’s streets have significantly emptied during the current public health crisis, City Councilors Michelle Wu (At-Large) and Liz Breadon (District 9) discussed options for using the reduction in traffic to reallocate street space to create a safer environment for pedestrians and cyclists.
Many cities across the country have started expanding crowded sidewalks and increased the frequency of their public transit in order to ensure that residents are able to practice physical distancing. In New York City, over 40 miles of streets will be closed or modified over the next month to allow extra space for pedestrians and cyclists. Here in Massachusetts, the Department of Conservation & Recreation (DCR) has enacted temporary road closures to allow for more social distancing along parts of William J. Day Boulevard in South Boston, Greenough Boulevard in Watertown, and Francis Parkman Drive in Jamaica Plain.
Once Boston enters its recovery period from the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the transition into more travel and economic activity will require solutions so people can still maintain proper physical distancing.
The City Council opened the discussion about how to ease the concerns regarding taking public transit once businesses start to reopen. “Even when we are at the point where we’re reopening businesses, people will be afraid to use public transit,” said Councilor Wu on Wednesday afternoon.
Councilor Wu advocated for the increase in public transportation services so that riders would be able to sit at a safe distance from others and so that Boston’s streets would not become overwhelmed by traffic due to discomfort over boarding crowded public transit.
She also recommended eliminating the need for fares so that riders would not be required to enter at the front next to the driver, therefore reducing MBTA workers’ exposure to hundreds of people a day.
Safer streets is not a new goal for Boston. As part of Vision Zero, the City has committed to focusing strategies on preventing serious and fatal car crashes by 2030. On April 22nd, a cyclist was killed by a tractor-trailer in the South End just outside of Boston Medical Center. The area has reportedly been a dangerous stretch for cyclists with several non-fatal crashes occurring there.
Councilor Kenzie Bok (District 8) urged officials to be strategic in rethinking infrastructure, citing concerns from residents who fear closing roads for pedestrians could attract crowds of people. She agreed that the opportunity to rethink mobility in the city was important during this phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, she maintained that consideration should be given over how to best assist essential and frontline workers in reaching their workplaces safely.