According to public documents, two main themes motivated street reallocations in the study cities: supporting mobility, recreation, and physical distancing in populous areas, and bolstering COVID-19 recovery for business. Table 3 summarizes the types, extent, and rationale of street reallocation interventions. Of the three cities, Halifax reallocated the most street space (17.2 km) and Kelowna the least (0.7 km). Victoria reallocated 6.4 km. All cities closed streets in core neighbourhoods to create temporary patio space while supporting physical distancing, and Victoria and Halifax expanded sidewalk and street space to support active transportation. The content on cities’ websites did not explicitly mention equity as a consideration in their street reallocation response strategies.
Below, city by city, we highlight the strategies cited, the locations of street reallocation interventions and integration with pre-existing infrastructure, and the socio-spatial equity considerations.
Interventions and strategies
In the Victoria area, street space was reallocated for three reasons: expanding sidewalks to create more space for mobility, to support access to parks and recreation, and to support businesses by expanding space for patios (Fig. 1). The response was led by the City of Victoria, who implemented 91% (5.9 km) of street reallocations, by distance. The neighbouring municipality of Oak Bay extended ~ 450 m of sidewalk space along the municipality’s main street, and the regional government expanded ~ 100 m of sidewalk space on the Tillicum bridge to provide additional room for pedestrians during construction. The Township of Esquimalt and the District of Saanich did not make any street reallocations.
The City of Victoria began expanding sidewalk space on April 23, 2020, with the aim to make space for people in dense neighbourhoods to access essential business and services. Space for recreation and access to popular oceanside recreation sites began May 16: in Beacon Hill Park public vehicle access was restricted and streets were designated for active transportation, and along Dallas Road a new protected bike path was repurposed as a multiuse path to provide more space for different modes. In early June, the city closed two main streets to vehicular traffic in the downtown core, reallocating space to businesses opening patios. Street space for business was also reallocated in the Fernwood neighbourhood in early August, and the city is currently accepting applications from businesses for additional reallocations.
In addition to street reallocations, the City of Victoria converted 43 pedestrian activated signals to automated “no-touch” signals, under the strategy to reduce high touch zones. Phase 1 of implementation (May 2020) focused on intersections near grocery stores and hospital and care facilities, and at busy intersections with wide crossings, and phase 2 (late July) prioritized parks, harbourfront and oceanfront routes, and school fields where people may gather. A third phase is in planning stages. The District of Saanich also converted the majority of major pedestrian crossings identified in their active transportation plan to automated signals, but details are unavailable publicly.
Communications for street expansions were disseminated on the COVID-19 Response and Recovery and Build Back Victoria webpages (sites for COVID-19 information for residents and businesses respectively) and the 2020 News page on the City of Victoria’s website. The city also used their Facebook and Twitter pages to announce street changes, and where parking was removed, delivered letters to residents and businesses along affected routes to notify them. Most changes were reported in local online news. In terms of materials for interventions, sidewalk expansions were delineated with bollards, signs, and paint markings, and street closures were implemented with barricades and signage.
Of the three cities, Victoria had the most existing active transportation infrastructure, and was in the process of implementing a complete, connected AAA bicycle network when the pandemic began. In terms of integration with existing infrastructure, the reallocations supporting recreation connected existing sidewalk and bicycling infrastructure to open space and parks; likewise, the reallocations to support patios and physical distancing in the downtown core were well connected to active transportation infrastructure. Figure 1 shows the interventions and integration with the existing bicycle network.
Mobility and accessibility considerations
We present the relative distribution of street reallocation interventions across quartiles of the population density, mobility, and accessibility measures in Fig. 2. In general in these figures, if there were equal spatial distribution, each quartile would have 25% of the reallocation interventions. Instead, we see the bulk of interventions happen in areas with better active living environments, higher active travel mode shares, and areas with higher population density. Population density presents an opportunity to consider equity, by considering relative need. In more dense areas, people are more likely to have less access to private outdoor spaces, and thus may be in need of access to street space for physical distancing. Notably, all sidewalk expansions were located in higher density neighbourhoods and were sited at “pinch points”, typically in neighbourhood centres with higher levels of essential destinations and pedestrian traffic (Victoria News 2020). In terms of proximity to essential destinations, interventions were in areas with great proximity to grocery stores and health care. In fact, no areas in the lowest quartile of proximity to grocery stores had any street reallocation interventions.
Figure 3 highlights socio-demographic patterning in the areas with street reallocations. The interventions were predominantly in lower income neighbourhoods, with 71.3% of reallocation interventions in areas falling in the lowest income quartile. In Victoria, these neighbourhoods tend to be closer to the downtown core. However, the interventions tended to be in areas with fewer visible minorities (< 21% of street reallocations (km) were in areas with Q1/Q2 for visible minority measure) and fewer children (< 2% of street reallocations were in areas that had the highest proportion of children (Q1)). In Victoria, children and youth (< 15 years) tend to be concentrated in areas further from the downtown core. Areas with many Indigenous people and older adults were well served.
Interventions and strategies
Kelowna allocated just one intervention—a 700 m street closure to motor vehicles along Bernard Ave and short sections of two cross streets—on June 29, 2020 (Fig. 4). The rationale was to support businesses in opening up patios, using road space to allow for physical distancing (City of Kelowna 2020b). Kelowna also automated 36 pedestrian signals in the downtown core. Communications from the city were disseminated on the News page of the City of Kelowna’s website, and their Facebook and Twitter pages, and local news covered the closure.
Of the three cities, Kelowna has the most bicycle and the least sidewalk infrastructure and the lowest walking and transit mode shares. The average population density is about half that of the other cities (~ 600 vs 1670 people/km2, respectively). The street reallocation intervention was in a strategic location as Bernard Ave is a main street with numerous bars, restaurants, and shops, and is adjacent to the popular lakefront City Park. As shown in Fig. 4, the street closure connects with sidewalk and bicycle infrastructure.
Mobility, accessibility, and socio-demographic considerations
As there was only a single street reallocation intervention in Kelowna, we do not show the relative distribution across socio-spatial measures. Briefly, the intervention was in an area of the city with the highest population density and access to all essential destinations, as well as a supportive active living environment and the highest active transportation mode shares. In terms of social equity, the intervention was in an area with a relatively high proportion of visible minorities and Indigenous people. Like Victoria’s, Kelowna’s downtown core tends to be an area with lower income.
Halifax had the most comprehensive response of the three cities, implementing their Halifax Mobility Response Plan: Streets and Spaces beginning May 25, 2020. The plan adopted short-, medium-, and long-term actions to adapt public space and transportation networks, which included slow streets, sidewalk expansions, and street closures to support patio expansions and physical distancing (Halifax Regional Municipality 2020b). The region had the least existing active transportation infrastructure of the three cities, and, like Victoria, is actively installing a complete and connected AAA active transportation network. The implementation of slow streets added substantial linkages within downtown Halifax and Dartmouth and connects with some existing infrastructure (Fig. 5).
Interventions and strategies
The most notable intervention in Halifax was the installation of over 16 km of slow (shared) streets that served to connect neighbourhoods to downtown Halifax and Dartmouth. Additional interventions included ~ 620 m of street space reallocated for sidewalk expansions and ~ 400 m for patio space. Initial siting for slow streets was guided by the IMP (~ 50% of slow streets) and additional options were selected and designs adapted based on an older Active Transportation Priorities Plan and public crowdsourced feedback through the Shape Your City web map (Halifax Regional Municipality 2020b). Slow streets and sidewalk expansions were implemented throughout May and June, and beginning in early July, two streets on the Halifax Peninsula (downtown) were closed or converted to a one-way street to make space for patios.
Sidewalk expansions and slow streets were rolled out under the city’s short-term strategy, with measures intended to be temporary. The plan acknowledges that next steps involve consulting with businesses, advocacy groups, and the public to transition to more permanent (medium-long term) solutions (Halifax Regional Municipality 2020b). In addition to street reallocation, signal timings were altered to reduce wait times at major crossings along 9 major streets.
In terms of communication and materials, Halifax adopted branded communications and signage with clear and specific language to raise awareness about interventions (Fig. 6). The city spent $65,000 on extra pylons and barriers to support response (Berman 2020). All interventions were communicated in advance on the Halifax Mobility Response webpage and the city integrated public feedback from the Shape Your City web map. HRM also released detailed and timely intervention updates on their News page, Facebook page, and Twitter. As in the other cities, street reallocations were covered by local media sources.
Mobility and accessibility considerations
Figure 7 shows the distribution of interventions across mobility and accessibility measures in Halifax. Over three quarters of the interventions were in the areas with the most supportive active living environments (84.2% in Q4); in fact, none were in areas with below median values for active living environment (i.e., Q1/Q2). Interventions were in areas with higher population density and higher use of active transportation, especially walking to work. They were also concentrated in DAs with high accessibility, with upwards of 65% of street reallocations in Q4 for access to employment, health care, and pharmacies, and over 50% for access to grocery stores.
In Halifax (Fig. 8), there was moderate skew toward interventions in areas with lower proportions of people who are visible minorities, Black, or Indigenous (53% to 63% of street reallocation distance in the Q3/Q4 areas for these indicators), but for visible minorities and Black people, this was less pronounced than what was seen in Victoria. The patterning of interventions was fairly balanced across income, although few interventions were in the highest income areas (Q4, highest income, had only 9% of street reallocations). Areas with more children and older adults did not have many interventions (Q1, areas with the greatest proportion of children or the most older adults, had only 4.7% or 11% of interventions, respectively).