How can we protect ourselves from coronavirus if our narrow, busy streets won’t let us?

A similar effort to map New York’s sidewalks ranks them from “very easy” to “impossible” for physical distancing. In general, the further a pavement was from Manhattan, the narrower it was. “I think it’s a clear indication of how as cities have grown, the attention to pedestrians has waned,” says Meli Harvey, who works at think tank Sidewalk Labs, and who created the map.

How will we keep our distance if there isn’t the space? Will there be traffic lights for pedestrians or one-way pavements? Can pedestrians and cyclists take back roads from cars? Will we walk single-file, two metres apart? Near where I live in north London, linear parks are turned into one-way passages, a kind of conveyor belt through greenery to avoid coming into contact with oncoming walkers.

Hopefully this experience will prompt a new way of thinking about the places we live in. 

It’s already taking place in Europe. Paris is fast-tracking a new cycling superhighway to link the suburbs with the city. In Brussels, the city centre has given priority to walkers and cyclists and the speed limit has been reduced to 20 km/h (12.4 miles per hour). Pop-up bike lanes have been installed in Berlin. 

This summer in Milan, the city centre will be redesigned to give more than 22 miles of roads to pedestrians and cyclists. Our behaviour may have to change, too. The city is also planning to change the timings of the day, with school start times staggered and shops encouraged to stay open later as a way of making longer, but quieter, rush hours. 

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