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Street Closures, Shared and Slow Streets, and Sidewalk Directions

Bicyclist and pedestrian iconTowns throughout the country (and world) are closing streets to through-traffic both to create sufficient “social distance” space for people to walk or bicycle and also, in some residential neighborhoods, to provide room for people to get exercise. As people want to enjoy the outdoors, towns can help create safe spaces in the streets by closing them down to motorists (with exceptions to emergency vehicles and where necessary for commercial deliveries). In addition to street closures, newly designated “slow street” or shared street designations that allow local traffic at low speeds are gaining momentum. These allow for people to walk and recreate in the road but also allow local traffic at low speeds. Some communities are also closing a street lane to motor traffic to create bicyclist/pedestrian travel space while still allowing one lane of traffic and some towns are creating parklets in the right-of-way to create space for outdoor dining as well as places for people to sit and rest outside. In downtown areas, removal of on-street parking spaces creates more space for pedestrians, bicyclists, and patrons to access businesses safely. To help cities and towns quickly implement or expand improvements to sidewalks, curbs, streets, on-street parking spaces and off-street parking lots in support of public health, safe mobility, and renewed commerce in their communities, MassDOT has launched a Shared Streets and Spaces Grant Program to provide grants for such projects ranging from $5,000 to $300,000.


  • Consider locations that connect to essential retail services like grocery stores and takeout restaurants
  • Residential streets are favorable for shared/slow street designation
  • Sidewalk availability is one factor to consider when determining which streets might be the best to close or share
  • Downtown areas that draw people to local businesses are prime areas for sharing/closing
  • Providing a network of connections is ideal
  • Public officials will need to stress that the purpose of the open or shared streets is to enable exercise and access to essential services on foot or bike and not for congregating
  • A community might roll out closures gradually, perhaps beginning with a pilot project in one area first
  • Signage (and bollards if needed) can transform a street fairly easily
  • Continual evaluation of the closure’s effectiveness is important; it can always be reversed if it’s not working well
  • Coordination with state agencies on state-owned roads may be necessary


  • The Town of Barnstable closed a lane of Main Street in Hyannis to allow for safe movement of pedestrians, as well as provide more space for restaurants and businesses to operate outside.
  • The Burlington, Vermont Shared Streets for Social Distancing Initiative created 25 miles of a shared street network.
  • The Town of Brookline closed four major streets to traffic to allow people to walk to work and local businesses with adequate space.
  • The Town of Plymouth has made traffic one-way through the downtown to create a pedestrian lane and space for outdoor dining and display on the sidewalk. In its efforts to provide immediate support and relief to local businesses, the Town is allowing them to expand operations outside both on private and Town-owned property/public ROW through a simple application process.
  • Portland, Oregon has established a Healthy Businesses Permit, which allows businesses to operate in the right-of-way, including taking up portions of the sidewalk, parking, street, etc.
  • Tampa, Florida established a Business Recovery Zone pilot program closing select streets for outdoor dining.
  • The National Association of City Transportation Officials’ Streets for Pandemic Response Recovery guide also has detailed information on various closed, shared, or slow streets strategies.
  • Smart Growth America is compiling community responses related to Complete Streets, including those places that are employing Open Streets, in a map.


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