by Colin Fiske
From June 5 through June 25, 2020, CRTP hosted an online survey asking Humboldt County residents about their experiences walking, biking, driving and using other modes of transportation now compared to before the pandemic. The survey also asked whether residents are having trouble social distancing while moving around and gauged support for various potential measures to accommodate new realities and make streets safer for the duration of the pandemic. Two hundred and one Humboldt County residents responded to the survey.
Countywide, 70% of respondents reported walking and/or biking the same amount or more since the stay-at-home order was issued in March, while 94% of respondents reported driving the same or less. This represents a significant and fundamental shift in the way local residents are using the streets. 37% of respondents reported that it was moderately to extremely difficult to maintain a safe social distance from others while walking, biking or otherwise using the streets. Many respondents identified specific locations where they had trouble social distancing. While the majority of respondents reported little to no difficulty social distancing, these results demonstrate that a significant portion of the county’s population is having trouble complying with this public health mandate.
Slow Streets are neighborhood streets where through traffic is discouraged, so that people can walk, bike and even play in the streets more safely while social distancing. Large majorities of respondents supported the implementation of Slow Streets (80%) locally, as well as automatic walk signals for pedestrians to avoid “high-touch” buttons (72%), and reduced parking requirements for businesses to allow outdoor dining in parking areas (90%).
Given the urgent need for ongoing public health measures in response to the pandemic, as well as the broad public support demonstrated here, we have been urging jurisdictions throughout the county to implement each of these measures as soon as possible. Several respondents noted, and we strongly agree, that when implementing these measures it is critical to ensure convenient access for people with various mobility limitations.
As of this writing, the cities of Eureka and Arcata have both already made it easier for restaurants to set up tables in the public right-of-way. However, where this means outdoor dining on sidewalks, it presents a new obstacle and health hazard for pedestrians. We’re encouraging local governments to limit outdoor dining to parking lots and on-street parking spaces to avoid these problems, or to close certain blocks to traffic altogether and put tables in the driving lanes.
We’ve been in the pandemic era for a while now, but we believe that distancing and other public health measures will likely be necessary for many months to come. For that reason, we continue our advocacy for interventions to create safer, healthier streets for everyone in the COVID-19 era. The results of this survey only strengthen our resolve.