Until there’s a vaccine, we have what we have: expert public health opinion, good policy, community spirit, face masks—and pylons.
1,571 pylons, to be precise. That’s how many pylons are doing quiet duty on Edmonton roadways as part of the Shared Streets and lane closure initiatives that create safe space in parts of the city where physical distancing is a challenge.
“Those pylons are really the exterior sign of a commitment to making our city a great place to be, for everyone,” said Olga Messinis, the City of Edmonton’s Director of Traffic Operations.
“We encourage Edmontonians to stay safe, spend time outdoors and take advantage of the shared space we have installed.”
Providing Shared Streets and lane closures are one way the City has helped to reimagine space to keep things safe for people on the move.
In March, when the pandemic’s effect on public space was first felt, automobile traffic volume was down as much as 70 per cent. For the most part, it stayed at around half of typical levels during the early months of the pandemic.
That drop opened the door for reimagining how roadways work. Especially in densely populated neighbourhoods with not enough sidewalk and pathway space to allow people the vital two metres of physical distance between them.
“Shared Streets and lane closures provide Edmontonians with the ability to drive, walk, bike and roll safely around our city,” said Darryl Mullen, General Supervisor of Traffic Control.
“They are designed in a meaningful way to keep traffic flowing, while allowing others to exercise or make use of the outdoor space,” said Mullen. “Residents appreciate and are making the most out of these spaces.”
The idea to repurpose street space to create physical-distance space is also visible in lane closures supporting temporary outdoor patio, sidewalk cafe and retail expansions in Edmonton.
In May, City Council said yes to a plan to allow businesses to grow their outdoor patio and retail space in a way that allows for better physical distancing.
The Traffic Operations pylons reported for duty.
In general, interested businesses place tables on their sidewalk area and the curb lane is closed to provide the safe passage for pedestrians. To date, the City has supported approximately 30 outdoor patio, sidewalk cafe and retail spaces by temporarily closing the curb lane to make space.
Like the one in the pic above on 104 Street downtown.
And like this temporary outdoor patio and retail expansion along Whyte Avenue, which was put in place with the help and vision of the Old Strathcona Business Improvement Area team.
“These expansions give businesses a greater presence and help them reach residents,” said James Robinson, who is a Business Improvement Area Infrastructure Specialist.
“During the summer months, this is a great way for people to shop at stores, eat at restaurants and support our local business community.”
There are 9 km of lane closures and 19 km of Shared Streets in the city.
Before a lane is closed or a street shared, City teams study traffic volume and population in the area. They also work to create meaningful loops that connect people to places they’re going, like shopping areas and parks.
A good example of that kind of loop is the closed lane and Shared Street extension on 104 Street from Saskatchewan Drive to Whyte Avenue and along the business area to University Avenue.
Ramping up the work
There’s also some cool work behind the scenes.
All the pylons and barricades used to create physical distancing space came from the City’s existing inventory. But what about the need to get people safely down from a sidewalk onto a reimagined lane?
The City’s fabrication shop was inclined to help. The craftspeople there quickly worked with the Traffic Operations team to design and build temporary ramps for the task.
The sign shop also joined the effort, printing almost 1,000 custom signs to make it clear what lanes are closed and which streets are shared.
Everyone working together was what made this new use of existing space possible in an effort that spanned multiple areas of the City of Edmonton and its community partners.
Find a lane closure or Shared Street close to you here.
Thanks for reading! And moving safely. Sure, we may be alone in space, but not in how we use it. 😉
Editor’s notes: Pic at the top of the post shows folks using the lane closure along Saskatchewan Drive (eastbound) between 116 Street and 110 Street. If you’re wondering, traffic is down about 15 per cent from its pre-COVID levels.