British Columbia

B.C. cities expand street space for cyclists, pedestrians due to COVID-19

BC's top doctor Dr. Bonnie Henry is encouraging people to use alternate ways to get to work such as walking and cycling, and some B.C. cities are making moves to give active transportation more space during the pandemic.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry encourages people to use active transportation

A cyclist riding on a road in Stanley Park in spring.
The roads through Stanley Park were closed April 8 to encourage people to practice physical distancing while walking and cycling through the park in Vancouver. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

B.C. health officials say people who are commuting to work should look at alternate ways of getting there during the COVID-19 pandemic such as walking, running or biking to allow for physical distancing.

Some cities around the world have already blocked off streets and created more space for cyclists which could remain over the coming months.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said public transit such as buses and subway cars won't be packed due to physical distancing measures but said as a safety measure, people can consider wearing a mask for a short period of time or even avoid transit.

"I would like to ... encourage finding active transport ways to work so whether that's walking or running or biking," said Henry.

Several B.C. cities have closed roadways from vehicles to allow more spacing for cyclists and pedestrians during the pandemic including the City of Vancouver which plans to create up to 50 kilometres worth of "slow streets" across the city on a temporary basis over the next two months for pedestrian and cyclist routes.  The areas will still allow for local vehicle traffic.

During the pandemic, Vancouver has already closed iconic Stanley Park off from vehicle traffic, as well as part of Beach Avenue.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said her city's plans to boost active transportation had been underway since 2015 and have faced a "significant amount of pushback from the community in some cases," but they're now being expanded due to the pandemic.

"We've got a bike network under construction so that people can move safely from their homes into the downtown," said Helps. "In response to COVID we've removed some parking spaces in village centres."

The city has established physical distancing zones in village centres and downtown. As of May 14, four corridors were created in the neighbourhoods of James Bay, along Dallas Road, Hillside Quadra and Fairfield.

Three more areas around Victoria have been identified for new zones: Victoria West, North Park, and Fernwood.

Helps said more changes may be coming to give cafes, pubs, restaurants and retail businesses more space to open up.

"Dr. Bonnie Henry says this is for now, not forever," said Helps. "But maybe some of the things that are for now — that people love and seem to be really embracing — could be one of the positive outcomes of this very challenging situation."