The Optimist Daily has never been shy to support urban planning that favors pedestrians over motorists. Not only does it make the streets safer, but it can also clean up the air in a city dramatically. But beyond all this, perhaps the biggest benefit of clearing the streets of cars is that it turns the street into a place where the community can be together.
On April 15th, we shared a story about Oakland Slow Streets, a project aimed at maintaining social distancing by closing 74 miles of streets in the city for pedestrian and cyclist use only. We’re a month further along now, and the initiative has shown people what can happen when we take back the streets from cars.
One Oakland resident, Courtney E. Martin, took the time to explain how Oakland Slow Streets has transformed her neighborhood. She writes: “Slow streets,” overnight, transformed our family life and the lives of our neighbors. We had struggled to find a place to teach our daughter to ride her bike. Up until this point, it always seemed like such a production. Easier to just scoot along the sidewalk and put it off. But the minute the streets opened up, we got our helmets on and headed out. About an hour later, we had a bike rider on our hands. I’ve heard similar stories from so many parents across Oakland.”
Later she goes on to say: “We’ve run into—albeit with ample social distance—countless neighbors and school friends that we hadn’t seen in five weeks while taking our daily rides up and down our street. The parents talk through makeshift masks about which wave we’re riding that day (grief, anger, delight, hope); it’s saving our mental health, but also strengthening our civic bonds.”
Oakland isn’t the only place where cities are giving the streets back to the people. Both London and Seattle announced that it would make some of its neighborhoods permanently car-free, while cities such as Paris and Vienna are taking steps to remove cars and encourage other forms of transportation such as biking.
If you want to read a firsthand account of how “slow streets” can transform neighborhoods and unite communities, have a look right here.