Most NYC sidewalks are too narrow for proper social distancing

April 23, 2020

In a dense city like New York, social distancing is no easy task. Garbage piles, sidewalk sheds, and people make it hard to maintain six feet from others, the recommended distance to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. A new interactive map created by urban planner Meli Harvey shows the width of each sidewalk in the city, with the most narrow highlighted in red and the widest in blue. As expected, there’s a lot of red on the map.

The map display’s the city’s grid by block in a range of colors, from blue to red. Users can hover over each block to find out the width of a particular sidewalk and whether or not six feet of social distancing is possible.

“When the pandemic hit, all of the sudden the rules that governed how people interact in public space we’re turned upside down,” Harvey told 6sqft in an email. “Everyone became hyper-aware about how qualities of the street impacted their ability to maintain social distance. I wanted to document one factor that plays an important role in determining the ease at which someone can socially distance on the street.”

While the city maintains lots of data about streets related to car traffic and transit, Harvey said she found very little information on walking in the city. To find the sidewalk widths, she used 2014 data from the city’s Open Data portal.

Advocates have pushed for the city to close some streets to cars to give more room to pedestrians and cyclists during the coronavirus pandemic. While Mayor Bill de Blasio launched last month a pilot “Safe Streets” plan that closed one six-block stretch of road to cars, he ended it after 10 days, citing the overuse of NYPD personnel.

The City Council on Wednesday introduced legislation that would open up to 75 miles of streets in the city to pedestrians. “New Yorkers don’t have the street space they need to maintain proper social distancing, which we know is essential in this public health crisis,” Council Speaker Corey Johnson said in a statement. “While we want to work collaboratively with the administration to open streets, this issue is so important and so urgent that we are taking legislative action to make it happen ourselves.”

“Other cities across the country and around the world have demonstrated that this is doable. There is no reason we can’t do this here,” he added.

Explore the Sidewalk Widths map here.


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