Making physical distancing possible - Seizing the Opportunity to Make Streets for People.

Making physical distancing possible - Seizing the Opportunity to Make Streets for People.
Nicholas FaillaMay 27, 2020

Physical distancing is going to be one of the key pillars to maintain a functioning society and economy until a vaccine is found. Now, with the need to have space between people, it is becoming evident how little space is provided in the public realm to humans. 

Therefore in commercial areas it may be time to reallocate some of the 'space between the buildings' back to people. 

In Western Australia, the City of Bayswater has announced the relaxation of alfresco seating permits. Cr Dan Bull, Mayor of Bayswater said the change is one of a raft of measures put in place to support the local economy through COVID-19. Mr Bull said “The only stipulation is that the City would need to see the business’ public liability insurance and footpaths and other areas would still need to remain accessible to the public." Hopefully more Councils will follow the City of Bayswater's example.

Making physical distancing possible - Seizing the Opportunity to Make Streets for People.

This is a step towards supporting the local economy. If more space is available to businesses, they can offer dine-in services outside while complying with physical distancing requirements. But, in some locations this may lead to conflicts with pedestrians, or may not even be possible because the footpath is too narrow. Restaurants and shops may realise that parking bays are more valuable as an extension of their business rather than for vehicle storage. If these are on-street parking bays, what will be the response from local governments to those business owners that want alfresco space to stay open but don't have space to provide it? 

The next step, if appropriate, is to re-allocate some of the street space back to people. Many local governments have parklet guidelines or policies that enable a local business to expand into a parking space outside of their premises. These policies have many requirements in terms of design quality and location. For example, limiting parklets to streets where the speed limit does not exceed 40kph will prove challenging to most of Perth (That is a discussion for another time). Also, not all Councils have city hosted parklets, therefore the entire design, build, and maintenance of the parklet is the responsibility of the business. 

Councils relaxing alfresco seating permits is a positive step towards supporting the re-opening of businesses. It is also a step towards reclaiming public space for people to linger and enjoy. It starts a conversation about the purpose of a footpath or parking lot. Then the discussion will lead to another question - why are vehicles given 3 meters of road space width to be stored while pedestrians, patrons, and people on bikes fight over 1.6 (sometimes 1.2) meters of footpath? Is on-street parking the best use of that space? What if it was redistributed into space for people? Perhaps it is more useful as an extension of the footpath, or perhaps it could become a bike lane. 

Streets for People wants to see initiatives that use temporary road treatments to re-allocate vehicle space back to people.

Nicholas Failla

Nicholas is a content writer and graphic designer who is passionate about cities, architecture, urban planning and sustainable communities.

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