British Columbia

Vancouver should close some roads to allow more space for exercise, former city planner says

With physical distancing orders in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, it's tricky for people to both stay active and adhere to keeping two metres away from others. With at least two other major Canadian cities closing major roadways to provide more space, Vancouver should consider following suit, says former city planner Sandy James.

City could follow lead of Calgary, Winnipeg and restrict traffic on certain greenways, Sandy James says

A crowded pathway by English Bay in mid-March. Former city planner Sandy James believes Vancouver should close some of its large greenways to provide the public more space to properly practise physical distancing. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

On a sunny day in Vancouver, the city's seawall is likely to be packed with runners, walkers and riders of all types. 

But with physical distancing orders in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, it creates a tricky problem as people try to both stay active and adhere to keeping two metres away from others.

At least two major Canadian cities believe they've found a way for people to enjoy being outdoors responsibly, with some closing major roadways to provide more space for residents.

And at least one former Vancouver city planner believes it's something that could be implemented quite easily here.

"I think it's an extraordinary idea," says Sandy James, who now works as a city planning consultant.

Fortunately, she says,  certain Vancouver streets were originally designed with a pedestrian-only future in mind: the large greenways.

Crowds walking along English Bay in Vancouver on March 20. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

These roads were designed with pedestrians and cyclists ahead of vehicles, and they easily connect residents to local amenities and popular destinations. 

James was in charge of planning many such routes in Vancouver, and says she would close large greenways like Carrall Street in the downtown area, as well as Ontario Street, and 37th Avenue, which heads out to Pacific Spirit Park near UBC. She also has her eye on Stanley Park Drive, which loops around the park.

But she cautions that it would be important to educate the public about why the streets were being closed.

"The more we get the message out that it's for exercise and not for socializing, the more we can have some resiliency during this time," James told Gloria Macarenko, host of CBC's On The Coast.

"We have to get people back to a normal exercise routine. ... By closing the streets, it's allowing people to get out there."

City officials 'exploring' options

In Calgary, Memorial Drive, a popular spot for walkers and joggers along the Bow River, was closed to traffic to give people space to physically distance themselves.

And in Winnipeg, the city says it will introduce restrictions this weekend to traffic on four streets that it usually opens to pedestrians and cyclists over the summer months.

So far, the City of Vancouver hasn't commented on whether it is considering closing any streets.

The city is continuing to ask residents to stay home and stay put to help combat COVID-19. 

"The city has heard a lot of concerns from residents about crowding in many places where the ability to properly distance themselves from others does not exist," a spokesperson said in a statement.

"The city is exploring ways to provide more space so that people who do need to go outside for whatever reason can practise physical distancing."