Oakland announced some 70 miles of “slow streets” meant to calm traffic and create more welcoming places for people to walk and otherwise get around amidst COVID-19. Photo courtesy of the Jim Wilson/The New York Times.

As cities look for ways to open more space to people to allow for essential exercise and safe mobility options, Spin is excited to open up our “Build a Better Barrier Challenge” to ask people to design efficient and cost-effective ways to delineate space for people in cities.

By Kay Cheng, Streets Program Director, Policy Initiatives

During these uncertain times, we at Spin are doing our best to continue serving the communities that rely on us for essential transportation. We have launched our Everyday Heroes program to provide free rides and helmets for healthcare workers and we have stepped up our scooter sanitization and safety protocols. We are also working closely with City officials to ensure our deployment plans meet the needs of the cities where we operate.

Temporary protected bike lane in Brooklyn on Smith Street. Photo via Gersh Kuntzman/Streetsblog NYC

But as some cities enter into the second month of sheltering in place, officials have begun to rethink our streets as shared open spaces to allow people adequate room to get essential exercise and move around in their communities while also observing safe physical distancing practices: New York has converted street lanes into temporary bike paths as people are opting out of the subway and buses. Calgary, Canada, is experimenting with opening streets to people by shutting them off to cars entirely. New Zealand’s transportation minister is actively encouraging cities to use the time to create tactical urbanism projects — and she’s also offering funding for them.

It is also becoming increasingly clear that, for the foreseeable future, physical distancing will drive the need for modes of transportation that don’t require people to congregate closely. As such, bikes, e-scooters, and walking will need to be accommodated at greater scale — and street space will need to be safely allocated for those modes.

As cities look for ways to open more space to people to allow for essential exercise and safe mobility options, Spin is excited to open up our “Build a Better Barrier Challenge” to ask people to design efficient and cost-effective ways to delineate space for people in cities.

While we originally planned to launch this competition last month, we temporarily paused it in light of the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak and cities’ responses to the pandemic. But as more cities are looking for relatively inexpensive and quick ways to reallocate street space for pedestrian and bikeways to better facilitate safe physical distancing, there is no better time to give thought to how we can help provide safe, just, and livable streets for everyone.

Spin is inviting people to create better ways to separate vulnerable road users from cars and build on the excitement of safe streets initiatives that cities around the world are piloting. Three barrier designs will be selected as finalists. Of these three, a top design will be selected as the grand prize winner. Spin will introduce the finalist to a potential fabrication partner to help bring the design to life. The grand prize winner will also receive a $500 cash prize.

As always, Spin Streets wants to know what else we can do to help you make your community safer. If you are an organization, advocate, or City focused on micromobility, or making streets safe, livable and just, and are looking for support from Spin on a street safety, livability or justice issue or project, click here to reach out.

Interested in submitting a design concept? Join us for a webinar hosted by Spin on Thursday, May 21st at 2pm CST to learn more.

Sample renderings of a better barrier proposal. How would you imagine a better way to make streets safer? Show us your designs.

Additional Resources for Cities, Advocates, and Planners

As cities adapt to rapidly changing circumstances as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are a myriad of resources available to help. NACTO’s COVID-19 “rapid response” toolkit is just one. The reality is that not everyone can simply work from home and these measures can help ensure that those that have to leave their homes for essential work and trips can do so in the safest way possible.

From expanded bike lanes to sidewalk-widening and traffic calming measures, the National Association of Transportation Officials (NACTO) has been tracking infrastructure and policy changes cities around the world are taking. This is especially important in neighborhoods where public open space is already scarce, but in most neighborhoods, sidewalks are simply not wide enough for people to move around while properly physically distancing. Historically we have consistently under-allocated space for people.

And Better Block Foundation is crowdsourcing an effort to produce face shields through making 3D printing plans available to the public. Spin purchased 100 face shields from Better Block Foundation for its operations team to use while working in warehouses and out in the field. Better Block is also helping restaurants rethink how they can function as small grocery stores to help their communities access fresh ingredients.