Seattle is full of empty streets right now, and they could be used to help with social distancing.
Seattle is full of empty streets right now, and they could be used to help with the "stay healthy" part of Washington's social distancing efforts. John Moore / Getty Images

Philadelphia, Mexico City, and Bogotá are doing it. Dan Rather and the Seattle Bike Blog like the idea. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan is looking into it, her office tells The Stranger.

And today, as Washingtonians absorb Governor Jay Inslee's new "stay home, stay healthy" order, there are additional calls for local officials to repurpose public roadways for well-spaced, human-powered activities like biking, running, and walking.

Inslee's order doesn't prohibit this kind of outdoor exercise. In fact, the governor has noted that moving around in the open air is still just as important to everyone's health as it was before the lockdown. In The New York Times today, Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel, Vice Provost of Global Initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania (and brother of former Obama aide Rahm Emanuel), also promotes the idea of Americans continuing to get outside while social distancing.

To support this kind of activity, Emanuel calls on President Trump to force a shift in the use of our nation's roadways:

He must order mayors to close most streets to vehicular traffic to make them pedestrian spaces, open enough for Americans to be outside at a safe distance. Exceptions can be made for traffic with a clinical purpose (going to a doctor’s office or pharmacy).

Of course, doing this in Seattle doesn't require a presidential order. And Vicky Clarke, policy director for the Cascade Bicycle Club, says the volume of people on Seattle's public trails recently has underscored "the reality that it's hard to practice social distancing with such limited spaces for people to walk and bike in car-free spaces."

Clarke believes this city needs to "make sure essential trips by foot or by bike are safe—social distancing safe, but also safe from fast-moving vehicles." And she has some ideas.

"What about designating the city's existing Neighborhood Greenways as car-free?," Clarke asks. "Could be on the weekend, or every day. Another idea I heard recently was making every even-numbered street open to people biking and walking, every odd-numbered street for vehicle traffic."

There's plenty of opportunity for health-focused experimentation, Clarke said, because "there are so many fewer trips by bus and by car occurring in the city right now."