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In San Francisco Bay, slow streets against the virus

THE LETTER FROM SAN FRANCISCO

A pedestrian on the deserted street of Kearny Street in San Francisco, California, April 16. JEFF CHIU / AP

After the “Slow food”, here are the “Slow streets”. The streets slow down. Make room for bikes, walkers, strollers, children. We put the soft pedal. The formula was launched on April 11 in Oakland, in Northern California, land of grassroots and social innovation if any. It has spread across the bay. On Tuesday 21st, the mayor of San Francisco, London Breed, published the layout of the selected streets. A 20 km route where only local and delivery vehicles will be authorized.

Nothing to do with a new hedonist or anti-consumer movement. It is a response to the health emergency. The virus imposes distance. The purpose of slow streets » is to allow confined people to ventilate without crossing too closely on the sidewalks. Go shopping by bike without fear of being run over by a car, while the metro and buses have been cut on most lines.

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In Oakland, the plan includes 110 km of streets, or 10% of the roads. Other cities, such as Portland, Boston, Minneapolis or Philadelphia, are also experimenting with slow streets to compensate for the closure of parks and gyms. Attempt to remedy the growing claustrophobia more than a month after the start of confinement.

Good old pedestrian streets

Some are already ironic: Americans are reinventing the wheel – once again. What are the slow streets if not the good old pedestrian streets of European cities? Certainly. But in the kingdom of because culture, pedestrian areas are still scarce (the first car-free section in San Francisco, inaugurated at the end of January on Market Street, after a decade of debate, has been the subject of articles extolled in the press). And the “slow streets” participate in a different spirit. They accommodate bikes, skates, sidewalk pencils. It is a place of deconfinement and leisure, not a passage created by merchants to encourage shopping. Besides, the streets chosen in San Francisco are not in the center or in Chinatown, but in residential areas.

Above all, the term slow street looks very “next world”. The coronavirus crisis will perhaps fulfill a paradox in mobility: at the same time relaunching the private car, a hyperprotected bubble where no mask is required. And accelerate interest in areas without vehicles where pedestrians can distance themselves. “This is an opportunity to remember that these streets are ours and not just streets for cars”said Warren Logan, the transportation manager for the Municipality of Oakland.

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