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Tactical Urbanism: Addressing Traffic Volume Shifts in the Wake of COVID-19

Tactical Urbanism: Addressing Traffic Volume Shifts in the Wake of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted almost every aspect of our lives, including a shift in the behavior of the traveling public. There has been a notable decrease in traffic volumes and a spike in pedestrian mobility resulting from people spending more time outdoors. 

With guidelines in place to maintain a 6-foot distance, the increase in pedestrian and bicycle traffic has become a challenge for communities due to the lack of infrastructure available to support the higher volumes while maintaining appropriate social distances. As a result, some communities are integrating creative approaches to help manage this sudden shift.  

Tactical Urbanism

One approach that can be used to accommodate the increase in pedestrian and bicycle traffic, while keeping communities safe, is Tactical Urbanism. Also known as DIY Urbanism, this method involves using short-term, low-cost, scalable interventions to help improve neighborhoods and gathering places. Cities around the world have used these methods for years to advance long-term goals related to street safety, public spaces and more. 

With stay at home orders in place, communities can apply Tactical Urbanism methods to take advantage of the dip in vehicular traffic volumes by using portions of roadways to accommodate the increase in pedestrian and bicycle traffic. The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) released Rapid Response: Tools for Cities to use in response to the coronavirus. Here are a few tactics they recommend to relieve crowded areas in support of CDC and state health department guidance for physical distancing. 

1. Close or limit through traffic on select streets.

In Oakland, California city sidewalks were becoming very crowded with people seeking fresh air and exercise. City officials restricted cars from 74 miles of residential streets during shelter-in-place orders to limit motorized vehicles from 10% of the roadway space. With the reduction in car traffic bicyclists and pedestrians can spread out, maintaining social distancing in a safe way. 

The City of Denver, Colorado also closed streets to cars in April to provide relief to city parks that were being heavily used providing additional space for people to get outdoors.  And, in Minneapolis, sections of riverfront parkways were closed to motor vehicle traffic to allow more space for trail users. 

2. Restrict routes to areas where promoting social distancing is impractical.

In Washington, DC traffic control measures were implemented around the Tidal Basin and in Pittsburgh, access to the Mount Washington overlook was closed. 

3. Adjust signal timing to slow vehicle speeds and ensure safety. 

New York City installed 15 MPH signal progressions in three corridors to reduce the number of red lights that bicyclists face, improving bike safety citywide. 

There are also some less conventional approaches that can be used to create more space for people to get outside. As restaurants begin to open, closing roadways in restaurant districts can provide additional outdoor dining space that promotes social distancing. Updated temporary signage and potential signal retiming for redirected traffic can be implemented to address the roadway closures. In addition, temporary washable paint can be used to add a bike lane where vehicular lanes can be reduced. Planters, cones or even recycled tires, can be used to expand sidewalks. 

Where to Begin? 

The concepts behind Tactical Urbanism can be drawn from more typical maintenance of traffic solutions. These solutions don’t necessarily require construction and can help mitigate concerns surrounding social distancing and recreational safety. Solutions like temporary signage or temporary striping to help with additional traffic or closing a lane to accommodate bike traffic can help communities quickly implement solutions for the short term.

As leaders in bike and pedestrian planning and design, we have experience providing these services in compliance with AASHTO and NACTO standards. From leading Ohio’s bike pedestrian task order for the Ohio Department of Transportation, to our extensive background in complete street design, our transportation team has applied these concepts to projects across the country. Ready to get started? Contact us to learn more. 

Molly Loucks, PE, Transportation Project Manager

Molly Loucks, PE 
Transportation Project Manager