A new study contrasts 51 US cities’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, namely street reallocation criteria and messaging related to physical activity and active transportation during the early months of the pandemic.
Introduction & research objectives
The COVID-19 pandemic significantly disrupted daily travel. This paper contrasts 51 US cities’ responses, namely street reallocation criteria and messaging related to physical activity (PA) and active transportation (AT) during the early months of the pandemic. This study can be utilized by cities for aiding in the creation of locally responsive policies that acknowledge and remedy a lack of safe active transportation.
A content analysis review was conducted of city orders and documents related to PA or AT for the largest city by population in all 50 US states and the District of Columbia. Authoritative documents issued from each city’s public health declaration (ca. March 2020) to September 2020 were reviewed. The study obtained documents from two crowdsourced datasets and municipal websites. Descriptive statistics were used to compare policies and strategies, with a focus on reallocation of street space.
A total of 631 documents were coded. Considerable variation existed in city responses to COVID-19 that impacted PA and AT. Most cities’ stay-at-home orders explicitly permitted outdoor PA (63%) and many encouraged PA (47%). As the pandemic continued, 23 cities (45%) had pilot programs that reallocated street space for non-motorized road users to recreate and travel. Most cities explicitly mentioned a rationale for the programs (e.g., to provide space for exercise (96%) and to alleviate crowding or provide safe AT routes (57%)). Cities used public feedback to guide placement decisions (35%) and several welcomed public input to adjust initial actions. Geographic equity was a criterion in 35% of programs and 57% considered inadequately sized infrastructure in decision-making.
If cities want to emphasize AT and the health of their citizens, safe access to dedicated infrastructure needs to be prioritized. More than half of study cities did not instate new programs within the first 6 months of the pandemic. Cities should study peer responses and innovations to inform and create locally responsive policies that can acknowledge and remedy a lack of safe AT.
Dean MD, Amaya KA, Hall J, Gupta KM, Panik RT, Gustat J, Cradock AL. Safe streets for some: A review of local active transportation responses across the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Transport & Health. 2023 Mar;30. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jth.2023.101603