Barricades for seasonal Sunday and holiday road closures could go up early this year to make space for pedestrians and cyclists struggling to keep their distance as Winnipeggers head outdoors amid the COVID-19 crisis.
A spokesman for the City of Winnipeg said Monday that officials are considering whether to provide pedestrians access to roadways and enhanced active transportation routes as physical distancing becomes a challenge on sidewalks in some communities.
"There’s just no way possible in areas where there is density on beautiful days that we can maintain the physical distance," Coun. Janice Lukes (Waverley West) said. "We didn’t have a wicked winter, but we want to get outside, the sun is shining, the snow is melting."
Lukes says she’s formally asked the mayor’s office and the city’s interim chief administrative officer to implement road or lane closures for people to get outside and maintain the two metres of distance between individuals recommended by public health officials.
"We’ve got thousands and thousands of kilometres of roadway in the city, the traffic volumes are down: take to the streets, take to the residential roads," she said.
The city did not accommodate a request for an interview Monday but said in an email that more information on road closures and pedestrian access will be released this week.
City owned playgrounds, recreation centres and picnic shelters have been closed as part of the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but parks remain open at this time. On Friday, Mayor Brian Bowman said city officials are reviewing what outdoor recreation options can be made available to the public.
"We’re trying collectively as governments to ensure that while we’re telling people to get outside and social distance, we’re not shrinking the available public spaces that they can spread out," he said.
Over the weekend, the City of Calgary closed vehicular lanes alongside popular pedestrian corridors to traffic in anticipation of people heading outdoors to take advantage of warm weather. The locations of the temporary closures were not promoted to avoid crowds of people congregating at select spots.
Each May, the city restricts through-traffic on four roads on Sunday and holidays and give cyclists priority. The restrictions are in place for Lyndale Drive, Wolseley Avenue, Scotia Street and Wellington Crescent from Academy Road to Guelph Street.
"We’ve already got a framework, let’s put it in play seven days a week for now," Lukes said. "The thing is, people are going to go outside whether you want them to or not. So we need to make it safe for them and we need to reinforce social distancing."
Winnipeg Trails executive director Anders Swanson said enhancing the city’s overall active transportation network throughout the duration of the COVID-19 response will be critical to ensure the safe movement of people across the city.
"If you have to take half the people off the bus to maintain physical distancing for the next however many months, we’re going to need some sort of system," Swanson said.
"We’ve been calling for this for decades, but this is a life changing moment," Swanson said. "The space is there and it would be not just impractical to not rededicate that space to people so that they can move, but it would be rude to not do that now."
Separated and dedicated lanes for pedestrians and cyclists, addressing "mode gaps," and speed limit changes should all be considered as quickly as possible, he said.
"The simplest message is to stay home if you can," Swanson said. "We’re not trying to say the most important thing is for everyone to go out for a jog.
"But what we’re voicing is the concern that when you make rules to recognize walking and cycling is very competitive with a transit trip, if necessary, given the right infrastructure," he said.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.