Our Streets Can Wait -- For Now, Stay Home

On March 18th we sent out a statement from LivableStreets that detailed our response to COVID-19 and provided useful resources. Please check out our initial response on the LivableStreets' website here

While much of it is still relevant, as the situation continues to evolve, our response and actions must evolve with it. In the weeks since we sent out our statement, we have been lending a lot of thought to how the current public health and economic crisis impacts our work, along with all of the longstanding inequities that it illuminates. We’re launching a blog series to explore the challenges facing mobility right now and the variety of situations that make this time especially challenging for some people. Please join us as we create space for staff to think out loud during the difficult time we are facing - while we can’t have all the answers, we want to explore this conversation with you.

Please Stay At Home If You Can

During this time of uncertainty and physical distancing, mobility has become more challenging. For our essential workers, those in public health and the medical field, our mail carriers, bus and train operators, grocery store workers, and many others, safe and reliable transportation is vital.

With hospitals projected to reach peak capacity in the next week, and the projected peak of diagnosed COVID-19 patients still to come, the coming weeks will be pivotal for Massachusetts. This is why LivableStreets is asking everyone who can stay home to please do so.

This isn’t what we’re used to saying at LivableStreets. With spring just beginning, now is the time of year we’re usually encouraging you to walk and bike, enjoy our parks and the Emerald Network, and to explore our city. While challenging, the best way to protect our community is to abide by the stay-at-home advisory and remain indoors, except for essential trips such as to the grocery store, pharmacy, and medical care.

While going outside for fresh air and exercise is technically allowed by the advisory, these recreational excursions raise concerns when there is not enough space on sidewalks and paths for adequate distancing, and raises the question of whether recreational activity makes it harder for essential workers and for people making essential trips to remain safe outside. LivableStreets acknowledges streets aren't set up to do what we need (which, in part, is why we are asking people to stay home). Please know, we are working with our partners to address COVID-19-related safety and public health issues, including slowing drivers and opening street space near essential routes and locations so people walking, waiting for a bus, or queuing in front of the grocery store have space to spread out. Regardless, staying at home is a short-term request that could have a great impact.

 

Staying At Home Is Complicated

With that said, who does the responsibility fall on? There are so many factors that preclude a person’s ability to remain fully indoors, with the exception of essential trips. The ability to work from home is an immense privilege (one that we are fortunate to have at LivableStreets) during a time where unemployment rates are soaring, and those essential workers who do have to travel are putting themselves and those they live with at risk with each day. Many people are facing concerns about even having a home to take shelter in (contact your State Senator to call for a rent freeze and moratorium on evictions) or food to eat, and many are also trying to manage their households, children, sick family members, pets, and their own emotional well-being.

Another sad reality is that for many people, being inside brings different safety concerns, including mental health struggles as a result of the increase of social isolation and loss of support networks. The stay-at-home advisory is also impacting those who have an unsafe home situation; in Boston and across the country, reports of domestic violence have increased. If you are facing any of the aforementioned issues, here are two resources that we encourage you to utilize: Samaritans’ Crisis Hotline or The National Domestic Violence Hotline.

 

COVID-19’s Impact Is Uneven and Inequitable

Because of systemic and institutionalized racism in the United States, it is clear that Black, Indigenous, people of color, and marginalized communities will bear the brunt of the pandemic, and we’re already seeing evidence of that. Early data shows that African-American communities already comprise a disproportionate number of fatalities from COVID-19. The Boston Public Health Commission has released data breaking down numbers around those affected by COVID-19, including by age and neighborhood; as you can see in the neighborhood map, as of 4/2/20, East Boston, Hyde Park, Dorchester, and Mattapan are experiencing higher rates of COVID-19 than the rest of Boston. This appears to be occurring in other parts of Massachusetts, although the state is not releasing racial and ethnic data as it pertains to COVID-19, muddling the impact (read this Boston Globe article to learn more). Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley and Senator Elizabeth Warren signed on to a letter to the US Department of Health and Human Services, demanding that racial data as it pertains to COVID-19 be collected in order to address racial disparities in response and treatment. Additionally, the Lawyers for Civil Rights have filed a public records request with the MA Department of Public Health.

 

It’s Important to Do Your Part to Keep Us All Safe

It’s true that many folks will find staying inside challenging. It’s a large change for many of us, and due to a number of factors and circumstances like those mentioned above, not everyone has the privilege or ability to manage the complexities of remaining at home. Our community, essential workers, and elected officials are working hard to respond to COVID-19 and the changing landscape -- it’s important for people to do their part. That means the onus is on people with privilege (i.e. those who are able to work from home, have emotional and physical well-being, feel safe at home) to sacrifice non-essential bike rides, walks, or recreational use of green space for the time being; this way others who may not have a choice are able to exist a little more safely in our public space.

And as a plea for flattening the curve and on behalf of everyone for whom it is essential to go outside, please consolidate your essential trips, give everyone at least six feet of space, yield sidewalk space to those with less flexibility, wash your hands, and be kind to each other -- remember that acting as though you have the virus, even if you don’t, could help to protect our community. Help us keep our streets safe for those who need to use them.

Although we have tried to acknowledge many nuances, this incredibly complex situation cannot be boiled down to one blog post. For this reason, LivableStreets staff will be exploring some of the key issues related to mobility and COVID-19 in more depth in future blog posts, and do our best to do the complexities justice.

 

We hope this generates conversations for you, and that you remain safe and healthy during this time.

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