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Oakland’s“Slow Streets” Movement Picking Up Steam

In mid-April of 2020, both Oakland closed off some of its neighborhoods through streets with the idea of giving locals more space to social distance and increase safety for those getting out of the house and to provide relief for larger public spaces.

After a month, the consensus is that Slow Streets is a hit. Those nearby the closed streets say they’ve seen all sorts of activity that didn’t happen before. Parents are letting their younger kids ride their bikes on the streets and people are able to use the middle of the road for skating, biking, or playing games.

Initial Plan

Oakland’s Initial Plan called for 74 miles of Oakland’s neighborhood road to be closed temporarily during the COVID-19 stay-at-home order. It began on April 11 with the closure of 4.5 miles of streets with temporary barriers and signs. Exempted were those who lived on the street, emergency, and delivery vehicles.

The plan was hatched to provide relief to public parks and beaches by opening up more local space to encourage people to use in hopes that some of the more crowded public spaces would thin out. There’s no evidence that this happened, but there’s plenty of evidence that the spaces are being used and that locals are grateful for the program.

A resident of a home on Howe Street, Yvonne McGrew, is quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle as saying, “You would never have seen that — kids on bikes,” she said, pointing to some kids with helmets. “You’d see adults and their dogs, but not the kids, and I’m catching up with neighbors I’d hardly ever see.”

“Slow Street” Idea Spreading Fast

Similar programs quickly followed Oakland’s opening in San Francisco and other California cities like Almeda, Redwood City, San Jose, San Mateo, and Berkeley have either already initiated similar programs or have begun the process of putting one in place.

Larger cities across the US are getting on board as well in Boston, New York Minneapolis, and Chicago. But many of these copy-cats are already considering making the closures permanent. In New York, former New York City Traffic commissioner, Samuel I. Schwartz, feels that this should be a new normal.

In a New York Times article published Schwartz is quoted as saying, “There is no more important resource in New York City and in all the dense cities after people than space,” he said on Saturday. “And cities are now dedicating 30 to 40 percent of their land areas to cars. This could be a welcomed reclamation movement.”

Back in Oakland, some of the officials involved have hinted at possible keeping the closures more long-term.s“We’ve opened a lot of Oaklanders to the idea that people can use streets in all sorts of ways,” said Ryan Russo, director of the city’s Department of Transportation. “Where things go from here, we’ll have to figure out.”