Resources > COVID-19 Street Rebalancing Guide


COVID-19 Street Rebalancing Guide

The COVID-19 outbreak has impacted virtually all aspects of daily life in cities, including how we access essential services and maintain our physical and mental health in a time of physical distancing.

Managing urban space is key to ensuring safe public mobility as cities re-open amid continuing transmission concerns. That includes “rebalancing streets” to provide more space to walk, bike and roll alongside vehicle and transit traffic — for physically distant commuting, commerce and exercise.

These impacts are not felt equally. This pandemic has created special burdens for women and lower-income communities, who disproportionately rely on public transit, walking and biking to get around.

FCM and the Urban Project convened city officials and thought-leaders from across Canada to explore key learnings from the early weeks of the COVID-19 crisis, solutions leveraging active transportation networks, and communications strategies to ensure residents know options for safe mobility are available — and developed a street rebalancing guide to help communities re-open safely.

This COVID-19 Street Rebalancing Guide is for decision-makers and practitioners alike. Drawing on case studies from around the world, it offers strategies and practical guidance on rebalancing streets through three phases of COVID-19 response—from immediate to longer-term—including pedestrian and bike lanes, curbside queuing areas, and temporary patios and parklets.

This is a unique opportunity to spark projects with transformative value. Temporary measures can be deployed quickly to address long-standing gaps—demonstrating value, building support for permanent installations, and providing a foundation for more walkable, livable cities across Canada.

Urban Project meeting: Key takeaways

The COVID-19 outbreak is an urgent public health crisis that has impacted virtually all aspects of daily life in cities, including how we access essential services and maintain our physical and mental health in a time of physical distancing.

Over the course of the pandemic, cities have taken action to create space for communities to exercise and get fresh air, while respecting physical distancing guidelines, including blocking certain streets to vehicle traffic, widening sidewalks to allow residents to pass by one another safely, and expanding cycling networks to address existing gaps.

Transit operations are an important part of this mobility equation. Transit systems need to provide a safe and reliable mode of transportation for essential workers, and this takes both flexibility on the part of transit systems and considerable support from higher orders of government to backstop transit at a time of unprecedented loss of revenue.

While many cities immediately explored opportunities to close streets or take other actions to enable safe travel to essential services, some were concerned these actions would appear to run against public health objectives.

Other challenges related to this crisis were also discussed. Firstly, reduced vehicle traffic on the roads was leading to more cars speeding. Second, the way streets are designed and used are a significant equity issue — dense communities and those who cannot afford private transportation are disproportionately impacted.


  • There was a common interest in sharing and accessing relevant resources that allow cities to assess opportunities and implement changes, including using the Urban Project as a hub.
  • Cities need data and better tools to collect the data, as there is limited ability to track whether physical distancing is working. There is an opportunity to measure the success of each of these initiatives to better understand outcomes and plan future implementation (e.g., how people use space as a result of changes).