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We need to take back some streets

This virus thrives on density. Vehicle density has dropped, and drivers are relatively cocooned from risk, but people walking from their cars or homes to buy essentials are landing in a variety of unavoidable and unsafe situations. It can verge on the impossible maintaining a distance from others on cluttered two-way footpaths, even with reduced pedestrian counts.

I shop in Lygon Street in Carlton. The wide paths are cluttered with furniture and signs, trees and bike hoops. Last night people were walking side-by-side in both directions. A queue stretched well out of the ice cream shop, meaning any passersby trying to maintain the required physical distance needed to walk onto the road. Outdoor queues like this are becoming common now, as shops start to limit access inside.

This problem on these footpaths means I try to avoid them, which means avoiding the shops that face onto them, and they are dying.

It’s not just shopping that causes footpath trouble, in one of the densest precincts in the country. Trying to walk for exercise along any street is getting tricky. I’ve worked out that the only nearby place I can maintain distance for an hour is the nearby cemetery.

So cars are well separated but pedestrians are not. Melbourne is blessed (or cursed) with its endless grid. For traffic management it’s a definite blessing, for when one street needs to close, vehicles simply detour via the next street. We could make use of this now, to everyone’s benefit.

Lygon Street - Street view

Look at this Streetview photo. Look at the six lanes for cars (two for parking). Compare that to width of the footpaths. This whole street could close to traffic with only minor inconvenience to drivers, who can divert to one of four parallel streets. Then locals would get the space to need to do what use to be so easy – to go for a walk, and to buy necessities.

Even where it is challenging to shut a street without someone yelling “traffic chaos”, there are compromises that could assist – this might be to lose a parking lane, making a street one way, or limiting the closure to a few hours a day.

Cars have had possession of the roads for 100 years now, and it’s time for them to give a little back. At least for a while.

Melbourne 1910
Collins Street, Melbourne, 1910: film

Posted by Peter on 29.03.20 in 



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