Public Space, #OpenStreets, and Vision Zero response to COVID-19

In reaction to balancing the needs for both getting outside to take necessary trips and enjoy open space while providing physical distance, we have seen various agencies take steps to provide more room for people on foot and on bike to get out for both travel and exercise. The Department of Conservation and Recreation has taken steps to limit the numbers of people at parks by closing parking lots, while simultaneously opening up adjacent parkways to people for walking and biking. The Brookline Select Board voted to open up some travel lanes nearby locations that draw crowds such as the Trader Joe's grocery store and near the hospital centers, and both Brookline and Cambridge have adjusted their pedestrian crossings to not require people to press a button to activate the signal.

MassBike is keeping an eye on these developments as they change day by day. Below are two statements released by MassBike and our advocacy partners related to how State agencies and Massachusetts municipalities may want to approach these tricky times. With our partners at the Vision Zero Coalition, we have a five-point letter for Keeping People Safe While Making Essential Trips During COVID-19 Crisis.  With our fellow parks and transportation advocates, we thank the DCR for their proactive measures to open up parkways.

As the stay-at-home recommendations may extend throughout spring and into the summer months and beyond, car traffic volumes will remain low which affords us the ability to re-think how our public space is serving the people in Massachusetts, especially in those communities most affected by the virus.

As we see historically low numbers of cars on our streets, it's important for our traffic engineers and enforcement agencies to be nimble to modify the way we interact on our streets to make us all safer. This means finding ways to lower speeds to both prevent speeding and to make walking and biking on our streets feel safer. This means changing how our intersections work for people, and not focus on throughput for the limited numbers of cars on our roads. And as many of our essential worker are still out there riding bikes to work, we need to make sure they are out of harm's way as they traverse our streets to and from their crucially important jobs.

Below are the five point recommendations put out by the Vision Zero Coalition, directed to all 351 municipalities while acknowledging there is no one-size-fits-all solution, noting we will all have to be adaptive in order to overcome this crisis:

1. Repurpose vehicle travel or parking lanes to provide residents with safe access to space that allows for physical distancing.

2. In more dense communities, issue a speed reduction advisory to 20 mph on local streets and make public announcements to residents that every street is considered a shared street.

3. Reduce the cycle length of traffic signals at key intersections to reduce delay for all road users, including people walking, biking, and driving.

4. Automate WALK signals so pedestrians do not have to push buttons in key locations.

5. Communicate these changes in a manner that is accessible to everyone.

You can read the statement on the Vision Zero Coalition website here.


A man on a bicycle slaloms his way through the barriers put up to restrict parking along Lynn Shore Drive at Kings Beach in Swampscott and Lynn, in efforts to keep people away from the beaches and reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Along with travel for essential workers, MassBike recognizes that getting out for bike rides will be essential for our mental and physical health, and that we will need more than just isolation in order to combat the social and mental challenges that come with our response to the virus. So along with the Vision Zero recommendations, we also see the need to create many more options to have sufficient distance from one another in order to get out in our open space while following guidelines set by the CDC. To this end, we are grateful for the proactive steps taken by our Department of Conservation and Recreation which has closed the parking along many state beaches while still keeping the walkways open and converting the parking lanes into a de facto protected bike lanes, as well as opening up certain parkways for people to enjoy their parks without needing to be crowded on narrow pathways.

We recognize that most DCR facilities, including ice rinks, tennis courts, swimming pools and beaches, will likely stay closed for the duration of the crisis. As the Governor’s stay-at-home advisory may stretch throughout spring and into the summer months, and beyond, we also realize that there will be an increased demand on the DCR to accommodate the public’s need for open space. The DCR and the Governor’s team are to be commended for showing leadership and foresight. And we encourage all of Massachusetts' municipalities to look to the DCR as an example of what can be done to help us get through these tough times.

You can read the letter sent to Commissioner Montgomery at the Department of Conservation and Recreation below:


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  • Failed Lyndon LaRouchite
    can someone please call waltham’s mayor and get her to open prospect hill park ?
    this is a 250 acre park that is not at all crowded this time of year , certainly by my own observation much less crowed then supermarkets
    this is really infuriating