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What the Pandemic’s ‘Open Streets’ Really Revealed

Covid-inspired traffic restrictions and street changes have swept scores of U.S. cities since the start of the pandemic. But not all communities have welcomed them.

Restaurants set up tables for outdoor dining on Main Street in Huntington Beach, California, in 2021. 

Restaurants set up tables for outdoor dining on Main Street in Huntington Beach, California, in 2021. 

Photographer: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

During the early phase of the Covid-19 crisis, scores of U.S. cities experimented with closing off streets to cars to create more public space.

These initiatives went by many names — cities called them slow, open, or shared streets, among other terms — and covered a range of activities. In addition to full vehicle bans, cities created emergency sidewalk and bike lane extensions, allowed restaurants to carve out dedicated outdoor dining spaces and food loading/pick-up zones in former parking spaces, and lifted parking restrictions and fees on other areas.