Social Distancing on Toronto Sidewalks can be Tricky — Here’s a new Navigation app that can help

MapinHood
7 min readMay 8, 2020

Physical distancing on Toronto sidewalks is tough. Simply put, we need more walkable space as pedestrians to get to essential jobs and services safely. See how MapinHood is reducing some of that anxiety by directing you away from busy sidewalks and other potential risks while being outside.

You have been following the rules from the get go.

Staying home, leaving your house only for work or essentials, hanging out with friends over video chats and washing your hands 27 times a day. But today is your big day, your’re finally going for that grocery run. You put on your best outfit, grab the homemade mask and off you go.

Before you head out, lets go over some friendly sidewalk etiquette, as outlined in this New York Times article along with a couple of our own:

  1. Stick to either sides of the sidewalk if possible, by taking up the middle, you are leaving little chances for others to pass safely
  2. Walking with your partner or kids? Try your best to walk behind each other or as close to each other as possible to give others a fighting chance of passing you safely. Please don’t hold hands and take up the entire sidewalk.
  3. Try not to be glued to your phone, paying attention is more important than ever.
  4. If you are on a bike, please get off the sidewalk
  5. Don’t spit while walking!
  6. If you see a person with vision loss, don’t be afraid to help with some directions.
  7. If you encounter someone with a stroller or mobility device, make space. They wont go on the road
  8. If you are stopping to have a ‘distanced’ chat with a friend or loved one, please do not do it on the sidewalk, literally pick anywhere else.
  9. If you are sick and have to leave your home, please wear a mask.

If you live in the city, you are in for a surprise because thousands of others in your area also decided to step out. Some are essential workers trying to get to their jobs, some are out for fresh air and exercise, others like yourself are hoping for a shorter line at the grocery store. It won’t take you long to realize that it is practically impossible to get places while staying 2 meters apart from everyone else. So now the anxiety starts kicking in.

Toronto sidewalks are simply not wide enough for us to stay apart.

How are you supposed to stay 2 meters apart on a 1.5 meter sidewalk? Right now, pedestrians either completely neglect the 2 meter rule or step out on to the street into oncoming traffic (that’s no good for anyone).

The City of Toronto indicates that a single pedestrian takes up 0.7 meters of sidewalk space. A couple walking together takes up around 1.4 meters. The same plan also indicates that people with strollers or those who use a mobility device require around 0.9 meters of space.

This is where the math gets interesting:

The average width of a Toronto sidewalk is from 1.5 to 2 meters.

If you are walking alone, there is 1.3 meters of sidewalk space left.

If you are on a mobility device, there is about 1 meter available for others.

Walking as a couple leaves only 0.6 meters of sidewalk space for fellow pedestrians to pass, without one of you having to step on to the street.

In most places, pedestrians have even less sidewalk space due to sidewalk objects like garbage bins and construction scaffolding, as mentioned by Daniel Roznstain in an interview with CityNews.

For people with disability needs, the problem gets even trickier. A wheelchair user will not get on the road, against oncoming traffic to quickly jump back on the sidewalk after. They currently have no choice but to accept the risk of getting potentially exposed every time they need access to essential goods and services. Same goes for people with vision loss, seniors or parents with strollers. At MapinHood, our mission is to make the pedestrian experience safe, accessible and inclusive for everyone. Supported by the Microsoft AI for Accessibility program, our team continues working towards that goal.

Pedestrian and accessibility activists have been calling for additional space for pedestrians to spread out. And some cities are listening:

VANCOUVER

CALGARY

MONTREAL

WINNIPEG

OAKLAND

With other cities working on implementing similar measures:

Milan and Paris are already debating on making these changes permanent, While Seattle announced that 20 kilometres of the “Stay Healthy” initiative will remain pedestrian only on a permanent basis.

Advocates have been calling for some downtown streets in Toronto to be closed to cars so pedestrians can keep a safe physical distance from others. Here’s Tina Yazdani with why officials were reluctant to embrace the move.

The City of Toronto first implemented the #CurbTO program, freeing up some curb lane space at 100 locations (21 implemented to date) with known lineups such as grocery stores and pharmacies, allowing passing pedestrians to keep 2 meters apart. The city finally announced #ActiveTO on May 6, with plans to implement 50 kilometres of ‘quiet’ streets.

Both #ActiveTO and #CurbTO locations will be updated on the MapinHood app so they could be considered while generating routes that would allow users to practice safe social distancing preemptively.

Physical Distancing is here to stay for several months, if not longer. With cities slowly opening back up and the weather approaching those pristine levels of beauty we all know as summer, it is inevitable that more people will start getting out of the house. It’s already happening in Toronto Parks and here’s what you’re allowed to do in them according to blogTO.

A lot of confusion still remains on where we can and cannot go, what we are able to do there and what the rules are exactly. One thing that is clear on a global level is maintaining that physical distance of 2 meters, which isn’t exactly ‘a walk in the park’ when you live in Toronto’s dense urban centre.

Not everyone has a car, nor does everyone have a backyard, making access to walkable spaces and the needs of pedestrians more apparent than ever. In some parts of Toronto, as things stand, it’s merely impossible to walk in the city without coming into contact with someone in a tight space.

The world is changing and the way we interact with it is changing as well. This is why our team decided to introduce new features on the MapinHood app that allow our fellow pedestrians to plan and conduct their day to day affairs on the sidewalk with some piece of mind.

A ‘Social Distancing Mode’ in the app’s routing settings will enable users to reduce the risks of encountering others when they leave their homes for essential work, goods or services. Based on historic pedestrian foot traffic data, the app will route you away from busy streets.

Next time you embark on a trip to the store, put in your destination, enable social distancing mode and head out, instead of taking you though major roads with heavy foot traffic, the app will take you though historically less busy streets, minimizing exposure along the route.

A lot of us are isolated in small condos, basement units and single rooms. Stepping out for some fresh air or exercise is essential for our physical and mental well being in these trying and strange times. Our upcoming ‘Round Trip’ feature gives users the ability to set a timed route that starts and ends at their homes while avoiding unnecessary risks while they are outside. Once you decide how long you would like to be outside for, set the time, set your routing preferences and head out.

Last but not least, the team at MapinHood is working on a ‘Line Up’ feature that will help with estimating wait times at essential locations like grocery stores, pharmacies and restaurants. Users will be able to report in real time if there is a queue at their destination with approximate wait times for fellow users to see when they look up the same address.

Our Social Distancing features will be live on Monday, May 11/2020 with the rest of the features to follow on shortly. Download MapinHood here:

iOS: (http://tiny.cc/23x0jz)

Android: (http://tiny.cc/e3x0jz)

To learn more about us, please visit www.mapinhood.com

Stay safe out there, continue being a good member of society, listen to advice of healthcare professionals, stay away from large gatherings, wash your hands, don’t touch your face and oh ya, practice physical distancing.

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MapinHood

MapinHood is a free social #pedestrian navigation app. Personalize your routes and get actionable data in real time for safe, accessible and memorable trips.