The Future of Streets in an Age of Pandemics

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Postma, Deborah E.
Elliott, Michael
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There is not a place unaffected by the Covid-19 pandemic. In response to the pandemic, with its recommended public health social distancing guidelines of six feet, city transportation agencies have repurposed street space for residents to safely travel and recreate outside. At the same time, transportation agencies have become essential in partnering with local businesses in their expansion of dining space into public right-of-way space: sidewalks, parking lanes, and vehicular lanes. City agencies have had to adapt, evolve, and respond quickly to the current pandemic in order to effectively provide residents and businesses the ability to safely go outside and to continue some level of business. The work presented in this thesis includes a quantitative and qualitative analysis of city transportation agency responses to Covid-19. San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, and Toronto serve as case study cities. Interviews were conducted with relevant city personnel from each city in order to gain a nuanced and detailed understanding of how cities are responding, what factors instigated responses, how project logistics differ under a pandemic, and how vulnerable populations were supported by these responses. The researcher found that all cities studied had a prior inclination to people-friendly projects, that approval and outreach processes were bypassed in order to respond quickly to Covid-19, that certain projects will become permanent, and others have the potential to do so, and that project success is often context and locality specific. The equity maps demonstrate that there is much more work to be done to support vulnerable populations.
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