Dive Brief:

  • The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), in partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies, has selected 10 cities to each receive $25,000 grants for street transformation projects amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The program, which features projects from New York City to Long Beach, CA, prioritizes initiatives that are in partnership or support of community-based organizations. This will ensure that the quickly-produced street projects don't reinforce inequities among communities that are most in need of services like healthcare, transportation or food access, according to NACTO.
  • The initiative is the second phase of NACTO's "Streets for Pandemic Response and Recovery" program to document the design strategies that cities have adopted since the pandemic began.
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Dive Insight: 

U.S. cities have quickly moved to repurpose their roadways in support of resident and business needs during the pandemic.
"Americans are starting to return to work, but it's clear that cities aren't returning to normal — and the old normal didn’t work for everyone," said Janette Sadik-Khan, NACTO chair and principal with Bloomberg Associatesin a June statement"Instead of restoring the old transportation status quo, cities can adapt their streets to address racial inequities and remove the longstanding barriers to access and opportunity that these crises have laid bare."
The 10 selected cities and their projects are as follows:
  1. The City of Alexandria, VA and community partner Casa Chirilagua are working together to bridge the digital divide by building a safe and comfortable outdoor space with Wi-Fi for local students.
  2. The Atlanta Department of Transportation and community partners Georgia STAND-UP and TransFormation Alliance are turning several city streets into coronavirus information hubs. The street and lane closures will also provide safer environments for essential workers to walk, bike and access transit.
  3. The Denver Department of Transportation and Infrastructure will help expand restaurant patios and outdoor seating in the city’s equity areas, where very few businesses have applied for such permits and have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
  4. The City of Detroit is working with three local organizations to temporarily close streets by certain schools and parks to create an outdoor community hub for the neighborhood’s young people.
  5. The City of Durham, NC and community partner Spirit House are working together to create an inclusive shared street space that ties in art, culture and recreation.
  6. Long Beach, CA and the Long Beach Conservation Corps will help small businesses in four historically underserved communities by sharing and promoting information about constructing outdoor spaces for dining.
  7. The City of Minneapolis Public Works is working on its 2020 Mobility Hub Pilot project by creating more hubs in low-income neighborhoods disproportionately affected by COVID-19, including food and donation distribution services and information access.
  8. The New York City Department of Transportation and the Rockaway Initiative for Sustainability and Equity will transform underutilized space beneath a train line into a recovery corridor. The area will improve access to transit, community facilities, COVID-19 testing, information and outdoor seating.
  9. Philadelphia's Office of Transportation Infrastructure and Sustainability will work with restaurants in communities of color to encourage more non-white residential populations to participate in the city’s outdoor dining program, and to help repurpose street spaces for outdoor dining.
  10. The Portland Bureau of Transportation in Portland, OR will provide services to businesses in a historically black neighborhood to help design and build open spaces that promote safe shopping while incorporating public art and programming.
NACTO has produced a number of guidelines for cities to keep their roadways safe during the pandemic, including design plans catered to their youngest residents. Detroit, for example, applied NACTO's kid-friendly street design principles by installing a red rubber surface along a sidewalk for children to safely play while waiting for the school bus. And in Montreal, a pedestrian-only street was transformed with new landscaping and play stations to encourage safe play.
NACTO has also urged cities to shift from an "outdated" speed-limit planning system, which currently relies on a practice known as the 85th percentile. These suggestions come as traffic fatalities are on the rise in the U.S. and as the pandemic has heightened concerns about driver speeds.
The association's speed limit suggestions also address the racial disparity in police stops for Black and Latinx drivers. Cities often rely on their police departments to enforce speed limits instead of looking at how areas like street design and policies like speed limits can instead have the same effect, said NACTO program manager Jenny O'Connell in an earlier interview.