Our Streets Whose Streets: Impacts and Ownership in the Emergent Streetscapes of 2020

Authors: Gordon Douglas*, San José State University - San Jose, CA
Topics: Urban Geography, Human-Environment Geography, Land Use
Keywords: covid-19, covid urbanism, slow streets, oakland, tactical urbanism
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 8
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In April of 2020, the City of Oakland, California, made headlines with a plan to reduce vehicular traffic on 74 miles of city streets (10 percent of the total) in order to create safer space for pedestrians, bicyclists, and outdoor recreation during the Covid-19 pandemic. The so-called "Slow Streets" - some 21 miles of which had been closed by September - are partially closed to cars with temporary barricades and signs explaining they are intended for non-motorized uses and local residential traffic. This paper presents findings from an ongoing study of the varying acceptance, use, and impacts of the Slow Streets initiative across city neighborhoods. The study draws data from two empirical components: on-site ethnographic observation, traffic counts and photography in multiple neighborhoods throughout the first year of the Slow Streets program, and comprehensive survey and traffic-count data collected by the City of Oakland Dept. of Transportation on the program's first phase. These are combined in a socio-spatial analysis that maps and visualizes the uneven reception and potential of the Slow Street program across neighborhoods. The results illustrate the challenges of implementing tactical streetscape interventions such as these, both in response to crisis and as a more general urban planning and design strategy, and contribute to debates about community voice and participation, environmental justice, and green infrastructure along socioeconomic and geographical lines.

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