CLOSE THE ROADS: Will coronavirus change streetscapes?
WITH bicycles flying out the door and families doing their best to stay active while socially distant, will there be a rethink on public space?
Recently State Planning Minister Rob Stokes announced a $15 million Streets as Shared Spaces program that will fund councils to provide more space for communities to walk, cycle and exercise safely in light of coronavirus.
Councils can apply for grants of up to $100,000 for immediate temporary projects, such as widening footpaths and cycle lanes and up to $1 million for medium-term pilot projects, such as extra crossing points, wider kerbs and trialling lower speed limits.
Closing roads to traffic has also been mentioned as a way of better utilising public space.
The move was welcomed by Business NSW Northern Rivers regional manager Jane Laverty who said building cycleways, widening footpaths and closing streets to traffic would benefit businesses and improve health and productivity.
"Studies have shown that making neighbourhoods more walkable adds intrinsic economic value to local shops and other businesses as people out walking or cycling often spend more time and money in their own towns," she said.
Ms Laverty said there was evidence people spent more time and money in shops when they were on foot and 'walkability' was something now taken into account by real estate agents.
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"It's no surprise that property agents now include a 'walkability' score when marketing a home, recognising that it's a valuable part of peoples' lives," Ms Laverty said.
"Evidence proves 'walkable urbanism' means a 20-minute walk each day can reduce the risk of early death by up to 22 per cent and mental health by more than 30 per cent.
"In the short term, widening footpaths means people can more easily maintain social distancing as we begin reopening shops and cafes and this will be vitally important in getting the economy moving again, especially in our villages and larger town CBDs which have suffered the worst business downturn due to diminished foot traffic.
"We are in a time of business survival, and with this, employment survival. So, place-making projects and enabling infrastructure that can support economic development in our towns and villages is something to get excited about."
A Clarence Valley Council spokesperson said council had not yet made a decision on making an application for Shared Spaces funding.
"We are looking at our options. The NSW Government had a webinar on the program, we are also meeting Transport for NSW staff," the spokesperson said. "We'll make a decision on what to submit in the next couple of weeks - it will more likely come from an existing known work program."