By Joel Zanatta
The Cycling Lawyer

One of the indirect effects of COVID-19 is that it has propelled us outside more. We are walking, running, hiking and biking like never before. And as a result, I’m seeing cities across the country respond, changing our urban spaces to accommodate our desire to be outside by creating more cycle paths and bike lanes.

And no one is doing it better than the city of Montreal. That city is adding 327 kilometres of bike paths and pedestrian lanes, yes 327 KILOMETRES – and closing some thoroughfares entirely to motorized traffic this summer.

It’s all part of an effort to open up the city and its businesses after months of a COVID-19 lockdown.

In Vancouver where I live and ride, the city is introducing the concept of “slow streets” – allowing local traffic only in some areas, to create space for foot and bicycle traffic. The most visible example of this is the city’s “crown jewel” Stanley Park. Close to the start of the pandemic, Vancouver closed the park and its surrounding streets to cars, opening it up to cyclists and pedestrians only – and is now debating whether to make the move permanent.

The city is also fast-tracking more outdoor patios for restaurants. It’s repurposing parking spaces and widening sidewalks to accommodate line-ups outside businesses, while still giving pedestrians room to get by. It’s also looking at innovative ways of creating more outdoor space – like parkettes in unexpected urban locations.

From coast to coast, cities are transforming. This week, Toronto voted to expand its bike network with an additional 40 kilometres of cycle paths, tracks, and multi-use trails.

It’s part of a plan called “ActiveTO”, to give pedestrians and cyclists more space to enjoy the outdoors during the pandemic.

City traffic data shows that a significant number of people are now relying on cycling rather than transit, and that the volume is only expected to increase as the temperatures warm up.

And like Vancouver, as part of ActiveTO, the city is also in the process of creating more than 50 kilometres of “quiet streets” that are only open to pedestrians, cyclists and slow-moving, local vehicle traffic.

And the cities that are slower to move on initiatives like these are feeling the pressure. A citizens group in Calgary called “Project Calgary” is now lobbying for similar changes there. In May, Project Calgary launched an online petition to get the city to close more streets to traffic and open them up instead to pedestrians.

Olympian Denny Morrison signed the petition. Morrison says getting outside and staying active is crucial – especially in the midst of the pandemic.

“I think that’s something that should have happened before COVID,” Morrison told the CBC.

“It would have been great for everyone to encourage people to get out on foot and on bike.”

So far, the city has only closed a few roads across Calgary, and mostly in recreational areas. Project Calgary says expanding closures and creating more bike paths would help citizens move more freely outside while maintaining physical distancing.

It’s too early to say whether cities will preserve this new infrastructure when COVID is over. But I have to hope that not only will people see the benefits – like less traffic and less congestion, but feel them too, as they live healthier, more outdoor focused lives.

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