City Looking at Expanding Sidewalks, Making Pedestrian Lanes to Help Businesses

Mayor Walsh on Monday said that the City of Boston is exploring different ways to help businesses once the economy starts to reopen, including the expansion of sidewalks and possible creation of temporary bus lanes to increase bus service.

“We have been looking for ways to expand space,” Walsh said at a press conference on Monday. He said possibilities include “expanding sidewalks in business districts to help with physical distances,” and opening lanes for cyclist and pedestrian use, but “we need to do this in a way that does not cut off emergency vehicles” or deliveries, he said.

He said that when restaurants do open, they “probably won’t open at 100 percent capacity,” so exploring ways to give them more space to have outdoor dining on sidewalks is something the City is considering.

Additionally, Walsh said that the City wants to “help the MBTA if they want to increase capacity for buses.” He said that right now, subway ridership is down, “but essential workers continue to rely on bus routes.”

He said that when more and more people start to return to work, they might be concerned about crowded buses, so increased capacity and potential temporary dedicated bus lanes could be a solution.

He stressed the importance of retaining public safety should these things be implemented.

“We’re going to be looking at all the different ideas and reaching out to the community for input,” Walsh said. 

Support for Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Facilities

Walsh said on Monday that the impact on nursing homes and assisted living and similar facilities has been large, and “consistent with impacts we have seen nationwide.” He said that the “focus is on residents and staff struggling with uncertainty.”

He said that as of May 9, 252 Boston residents have passed away from COVID-19 across 39 facilities, representing 48 percent of the citywide total.

Walsh said that the City is in “constant contact” with administrators of these facilities every day, and worked to create staff shifts and administrative support. He said that the City will continue to support these facilities, their staff, the residents, and the families of residents.

“We see you, we are thinking about you, you are loved and valued,” Walsh said.

On Reopening

Walsh said the City “continues to have conversations with different areas on how they can open safely,” saying that “the data is key” when making decisions. As of May 11, Boston had 11,106 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 533 people had died.

He said on Monday that there has been a downward trend in Boston, and “we haven’t been this low in positive cases since March. He said that while this is a good sign, the numbers have to be consistent over a period of 14 days. He said he expects the numbers this week to go up again, as last week the numbers dipped then rose again.

As for City Hall reopening, he said that when the time comes, people will possibly work in shifts so as to not fill the building to its regular capacity. “We’re looking at 20-50 percent capacity,” he said, and recommended the same for other office buildings. He also encouraged people who work in offices to “think about who you’re bringing back,” such as an older person or one with a preexisting condition that is more at-risk for contracting the virus.

Boston Resiliency Fund and Eviction Moratorium

Walsh said on May 8 that more than $30 million had been raised for the Boston Resiliency Fund, and over $16 million had been donated to 180 organizations across the City to help people most affected by the impacts of this virus.

Walsh also said that for the last two weeks, the City’s nonprofit partners have been processing applications for the $3 million that has been set aside to help with housing payments. He said that more than $800,000 has been distributed to over 300 families.

In mid-March, a program to freeze eviction proceedings was launched, and in April, the state legislature passed a statewide eviction moratorium, Walsh said. 

“No one, regardless of income and immigration status can be evicted right now,” Walsh said. “I take my job very seriously,” he added, saying that the City carefully allocates public money to a cause and hopes that people “understand and respect it.”

He also said that he hopes to open Boston Public Schools and colleges in Boston this September, and the City continues to work with the state and stakeholders on a framework for businesses to reopen, as well as thinking about public transportation.

“There’s still a lot that has to happen,” Walsh said.

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