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‘Slow Streets’ disrupted city planning. What comes next?

By Laura Bliss, Bloomberg CityLab, January 6, 2021

“The embrace of non-motorized mobility has been widely cheered by safety advocates, environmentalists and foes of auto-centric planning. But in the U.S., slow streets initiatives have also drawn controversy, community resistance and comparisons with racist urban planning practices of earlier decades. They hit a sore spot in a uniquely sensitive moment: As a pandemic claimed Black and Brown lives at disproportionate rates, and outrage over police killings ignited global protests, slow streets became a flashpoint in the planning sphere’s broader reckoning over systemic racism.

“Nowhere was that tension truer than in Oakland, California, which was one of the earliest adopters of the slow streets concept. In April, the city announced a plan to restrict car traffic on 74 miles of residential corridors, much of it all at once.

“The rapid implementation of Slow Streets also appeared to ignore the long legacy of distrust towards the city felt by many Oaklanders of color.

“It didn’t take long for Oakland officials to recognize their error. The anger was palpable in long follow-up meetings spent with community groups.

“Warren Logan, director of mobility policy and interagency relations in the Oakland mayor’s office, agreed [with other equity advocates interviewed for this article] that planners might take a page from trauma therapists. In a year that has put police departments in the spotlight for their legacies of brutalizing Black communities, there has also been a quieter reckoning over the fact that those who configure streets, build highways and fund housing can have an equally profound impact on communities of color — often negative.

“‘City planners think they just do bike lanes,’ Logan said. ‘But this is the industry that not that long ago rammed a bunch of freeways through neighborhoods and totally disconnected people. We need to reconcile that there is a history of trauma in what we do.’”

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