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Lessons Learned in Opening Streets During COVID19

Over the past couple of months, we have worked with a few cities to on Open Streets/Healthy Streets/Streets to Trails programs. One program has been successful, another didn’t really get off the ground, and a couple are still in the works. But through these, we’ve seen a few trends emerge.

If you’re considering creating a program, here are a few of our lessons learned.

Create a Network System

One of the best moves that Kansas City, Missouri’s Public Works team implemented was both a network system of shutting down larger transit corridors and creating a Neighborhood Open Streets permit (like a block party permit without the party). With this two-pronged approach, they were able to address one of the biggest concerns, which is that closing off a street would draw people to that street thus overrunning the community.

Allow Neighbors to Shut Down Streets to Thru Traffic

Another great move from KCMO that we haven’t seen in many cities is that they streamlined a permit so that neighborhoods can apply for and implement their own Open Street. The form is simple, but does require that the permittee has talked to their neighbors about the concept and received approval. This is imperative. Other lessons learned from KCMO’s Neighborhood Open Street permit:

  1. Provide sample language for the permittees to use in talking to neighbors.

  2. Reduce the number of signatures required.

  3. Engage permitting department from the beginning, and work with them to ensure quick turnarounds.

Close to Thru Traffic; Keep Open for Local Traffic

For any street adjustment, neighbors still need to access their homes and deliveries still need to be made. Ensure that the design of the street allows for local access and safety for pedestrians. Post large signage indicating that the street is closed to thru traffic.

Council/City Support

No program will work if it’s just an advocacy group pushing for it. It takes council support, and it takes staff support. Resources are tight, budget shortfalls are coming to cities, and staff is overworked. It’s a difficult time for many. But with a well thought-out program that brings in several departments at the beginning, you can set your program up for success. Think about including police (so they know that the street closures are legit), inspection (so they can lookout to ensure the barricades aren’t moved), permitting (to help speed up the process), streets (they will likely lead most of the administration/design elements of the program), and any other relevant departments. With a combined effort, you can ensure reduced work on each department, and have a better program.

Resources Are Tight; Get Creative

As we mentioned already, resources are tight. We know that. Most cities are using all their cones and barricades for Covid-19 testing sites. Police are not able to monitor the open streets as they’re needed elsewhere. This is where we all have to get creative.

For KCMO Open Streets, Spin, the e-scooter company owned by Ford, provided funding so that we could give kits to permittees. We created a digital guide that outlined some high-level thoughts on design and approach and provided items, such as rented cones, CNCd barricades, stencils, paint, vests, and even a wayfinding structure. (And asked DuRon Netsell to help deliver the items.)

Looking Beyond Covid19

For most, these open streets are temporary and are to be used during the time of Covid-19. They give people who don’t have direct access to trails or parks space and a chance for social distancing. But as cities begin to re-o

pen, the question becomes: what lessons have we learned through this demonstration that can help inform how these streets should be used/designed in the future?

As you go about your program, ask yourself this. Perhaps it’s not the exact design that’s in place, or the exact street that’s in use now. But maybe the concept has opened the door to discussing more permanent changes to the streets and a rethinking of how people are using them to move.

To download our guide created specifically for #KCMOOpenStreets, but with broader guidelines, do so below.

Download PDF • 5.61MB


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