Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The Campaign for Wider Sidewalks

One of the problems local authorities are struggling with around the world is - as we emerge from lock-down how can we best support social-distancing in our urban environments? One worry is that crowded public transport systems could contribute to a second wave of Covid-19 in areas which are beginning to lower their death rates. Many towns and cities are therefore keen to promote walking and cycling as a safe and healthy way to travel.

One problem in making our cities safe is that many towns and cities have been designed around car travel and have not been designed to promote walking or cycling. Many local authorities are now looking at how they can transform the urban environment to dissuade people from driving and to walk and cycle instead.

One area which authorities might want to consider is pavement / sidewalk width. In order to promote pedestrianization it could be helpful to identify where it is currently impossible to practice safe social-distancing while walking. By mapping pavement width it is possible to identify those areas where infrastructure change is needed in order to make it possible for citizens to walk safely.

In the UK Esri has released the GB Pavement Width Indicator. This vector tile layer for Esri maps colors Great British pavements by width. The map uses three colors. The red pavements show paths which are narrower than 2 meters and show where social distancing is impossible to maintian while walking. Orange pavements are between 2 & 3 meters in width and the blue pavements are 3 meters wider or greater.

Sidewalk width maps are also being developed in other countries around the world. The Florence Sidewalks Map visualizes the widths of sidewalks in the Italian city of Florence. It allows users to see where in the city it is possible to observe social distancing and where it is impossible to maintain a gap of 2 meters between yourself and other pedestrians.

All sidewalks on the Florence Sidewalks Map are colored red if the sidewalk has a width of less than 2 meters. Blue colored sidewalks have a width of over 8 meters. It looks to me like Florence is a city crying out for pedestrianization. Much of the street layout and street widths in Florence date back to at least the Renaissance. Perversely because the roads were designed to accommodate people and horses Florence's streets aren't wide enough to accommodate both cars and wide sidewalks.

If you live in New York then you can use the Sidewalks Width Map to see where it is safe to walk in the city while maintaining social distancing with other pedestrians. The Sidewalks Widths map uses New York City's Sidewalk dataset to show where it is possible to maintain social distancing while walking in the city and where social distancing is impossible.

Blue colored sidewalks on this map are the widest and indicate a sidewalk where social distancing should be easy. Green sidewalks are less wide but still wide enough so that social distancing should be possible. Red sidewalks are narrower than 10 feet and show where a path is too narrow to practice social distancing. Just hover over a sidewalk on the map to view its width in feet.

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