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Cities Are Closing Streets To Cars During Stay-At-Home Orders

Cities all over the U.S. are closing down streets to traffic during the coronavirus pandemic in order to encourage people to stay home.

Could we ever see this as normal life in the USA? Photo of Groningen, the Netherlands, by Zach Shahan.

Cities all over the U.S. are closing down streets to traffic during the coronavirus pandemic in order to encourage people to stay home.

In Oakland, California, 74 miles of streets are open only to pedestrians and cyclists. Cars are not allowed. The city is doing this to allow people to more easily go outside for fresh air and exercise while still staying at least 6 feet apart. This would not be safe or possible if there was traffic. 

Oakland isn’t the only city. Boston, Minneapolis, and Louisville are also bringing car-free roads to life. These street closures show just how we can implement a sustainable future. An idea from this article proposes the idea of eliminating cars completely. That is a bit impractical, but I think cities would do well to implement an EV-only zones, that also allow ample space for pedestrians and cyclists of course. 

EVs do not produce greenhouse gases, and transportation does make up the largest portion of national greenhouse gas emissions. We need to change the way we get from point A to B. 

I personally don’t have a car and I usually walk or take Uber to get to where I need to go. I do all my grocery shopping on foot, usually multiple times a week, and run all my errands on foot as well. I live near a Walmart, a post office, and several other stores, such as Petco, Trader Joe’s, and Sprouts. So, this is natural for me. However, much of society is used to having access to a car and using it for the simplest things. Many an American may drive over to a friend’s house on the next block over, for example. Society isn’t used to walking any more unless it’s at the gym, the mall, or to walk a dog. 

Another challenge is safety. If we are going to have driverless roads, people need to feel safe to walk. I mean, not just safe from cars and gangs, but also those in law enforcement who would like to abuse their power. I live in a neighborhood with such a need. Just last month I witnessed police brutality upon an innocent kid (my neighbor’s son). He was thrown into my door and was begging for help. The kid’s only crime was being black and walking from the church next to our duplex. I can still hear him begging for his life, for his mom, and for help. He’s fine now, to some extent. They took him to the station and made him walk home, though — walking, the same “crime” he was arrested for. In some areas, it isn’t safe to walk, and people have learned that lesson the hard way.

In general, society has a lot of challenges to work out (such as racism and police brutality.) The coronavirus is definitely shining a light into those dark sections that society likes to keep hidden away. Another thing the pandemic is shedding light on is how cities are designed. Cars are given a lot of space, and as a pedestrian who sometimes has to walk in the street due to there being no sidewalk, I get it. Also, some states have weird laws for those who use bikes. Some states will make a cyclist ride out in the street with a car (no bike lane, or bike lanes in only some areas of the city), which puts them at grave risk.  

Cities have evolved into being more car friendly than pedestrian friendly or people friendly. Perhaps this ongoing pandemic will help them reorganize their priorities a bit. Some cities are certainly trying. And it should not be forgotten that air pollution kills many more people than COVID-19, and also contributes to the COVID-19 death count.

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