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Transportation and Mobility

The Pandemic Reshaped Streets And Public Spaces — For Some. We Want To Hear Your Stories

Two people walk in the middle of a closed-off street in the evening with trees and lights in the background.
Two people walk down the main shopping and dining street in Burbank, which was closed to vehicular traffic to allow restaurants to serve food outside during the coronavirus pandemic, Nov. 23, 2020.
(Robyn Beck
AFP via Getty Images)
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In the 15 months since the COVID-19 pandemic upended everything, you probably noticed some changes on local streets and sidewalks.

Many of us started walking and bicycling more. Los Angeles and other local cities launched Slow Streets programs, designed to limit and slow car traffic on residential streets to promote walking and rolling for cooped-up residents. Al fresco programs took space typically used for parking or driving cars and repurposed it for outdoor dining.

Repurposing public space has proved popular, with some cities moving to make their programspermanent neighborhood fixtures.

A woman walks two small dogs across a street in Los Angeles as signs alert drivers that the road is for local traffic only and to slow down and share the road.
A woman walks dogs past a "Slow Streets" sign on residential streets in an effort to limit traffic and promote social distancing in West Los Angeles, on May 16, 2020.
(Chris Delmas
AFP via Getty Images)
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In L.A., the Slow Streets program expanded to 30 neighborhoods before the Department of Transportation announced funding was tapped out and new installations had been put on hold. Spokesperson Colin Sweeney explained that the A-frame barriers, cones and signage placed on residential streets weren’t designed for long-term use.

“Moving forward, Slow Streets will use more durable materials that can be implemented quickly at low cost,” he said. “This new approach will be tested on existing Slow Streets networks. New funding would also be required to expand into new areas.”

Two-Wheeled Trips On The Rise

People on bikes ride on a cement path on a beach. Beachgoers with umbrellas and tents sit by the ocean in the background.
People bicycle along a beach bike path on the first day of the Labor Day weekend amid a heatwave on Sept. 5, 2020 in Santa Monica.
(Mario Tama
Getty Images)

Bike riding had actually been going up before 2020, according to LADOT data.

Our 2019 count of people walking and biking showed a 22% increase in biking from two years earlier,” said Sweeney. “We will repeat the count of people walking and biking in the Fall of this year, which will help us confirm what we can see anecdotally — which is an increase in multi-modal mobility during the pandemic.”

Electric scooters also remained popular through the pandemic, Sweeney said, and data LADOT gets from L.A. Metro showed its bike share program “has seen some of its highest ridership ever in recent months.”

Mobility Changed, But Not In A Good Way For Everyone

A sign in the foreground indicates a space dedicated as a public parklet as people dine (slightly out of focus) in the background.
People eat take-out food outdoors at a public parklet due to Covid-19 restrictions on restaurant outdoor dining in Manhattan Beach on Dec. 12, 2020.
(Patrick T. Fallon
AFP via Getty Images)

If you’ve had the privilege of working from home this whole time, walking and biking was likely a way to exercise, get fresh air and decompress. But for many in L.A. County, walking, biking or taking public transit was necessary to get to work, buy groceries and make other essential trips.

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And as local mobility advocates told me this week, not everyone has experienced their streets and sidewalks the same way.

“If we really tried to create a resolution during the pandemic for safe, walkable spaces, for communities to enjoy, then we should have been thinking about who really needs it,” said John Yi, executive director of the pedestrian advocacy group Los Angeles Walks.

But the way the city of L.A. enacted the programs was “fashioned and built to serve those who speak English” and communities “with social and political capital,” he said.

Jessica Meaney, executive director of the nonprofit group Investing in Place, said she doesn’t believe streets became more equitable.

People without cars or who couldn’t work from home “fell through the cracks in terms of their transportation and mobility needs,” she told me. That included many who rely on public transit, namely L.A. Metro’s bus lines.

“What we've heard from community members all throughout the pandemic was that they were boarding crowded buses, Metro had no social distance policy on their buses [and] the only way Metro was adding more buses during the pandemic was if they saw it on social media. That’s what they would tell us. I have a lot of frustration with the way our public space and our transit… met the demand in the pandemic.”

Our experiences with mobility and public space during the pandemic vary — and we want to hear from you. Tell us how walking, biking, rolling and otherwise getting around during the pandemic went for you. What changes did you like or not? What surprised you? Were your mobility needs met during the pandemic? How has your view of public space changed (or not) as a result of the pandemic?

We have a questionnaire below, and will be sharing your stories for an upcoming project.