Space can help slow virus: expert

Dunedin can blunt the impact of Delta’s inevitable arrival by creating room for people to stay physically distanced in outdoor spaces and imposing a 30kmh speed limit in city streets, an Otago public health doctor says.

The Dunedin City Council should be preparing now for a future where the highly transmissible Delta variant of Covid-19 is circulating, University of Otago Associate Prof Alex Macmillan has warned.

Measures could include a blanket 30kmh speed limit for local roads in both the city centre and suburbs, a temporary ditching of consultation requirements when car parks are removed, shortening pedestrian wait times at busy crossings and encouraging cycling, walking and other outdoor activities, she said.

Outdoor transmission of Covid-19 remained rare, even with the more infectious Delta variant, Prof Macmillan told councillors at a meeting this week.

Prof Macmillan specialises in the links between urban design, transport systems and health and fairness.

Advocating a 30kmh speed limit in Dunedin streets for when the Delta variant arrives is Otago...
Advocating a 30kmh speed limit in Dunedin streets for when the Delta variant arrives is Otago public health doctor Associate Prof Alex Macmillan. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
Much of her research is about how city councils can respond to threats to health by changing how streets work and reshaping urban planning.

She believed the disease could be present in Dunedin within days.

"Delta is coming, this is now inevitable ... we are going to see cases in Dunedin pretty soon."

Prof Macmillan emphasised keeping case numbers in check would prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed and would also have economic benefits, allowing the city to stay open for business.

Vaccination was an important part of the response, but the effectiveness of the vaccine waned, not everyone could get it and it did not halt all spread of Covid-19.

Measures such as face masks were still needed, she said.

Covid-19 was probably at least 18 times more likely to spread indoors than outdoors, she said.

Prof Macmillan recommended expanding the cycle network and said pedestrians should be able to move into road space to maintain physical distancing.

Her recommendations revived memories of the council painting dots in George St last year to encourage physical distancing — a move that was panned by critics.

Prof Macmillan said potentially effective measures were watered down through ideological debate.

At this week’s meeting, Prof Macmillan called for work in George St to be brought forward.

An extensive upgrade is planned there, due to finish in 2024.

She clarified yesterday she was advocating for "tactical urbanism" and temporary adjustments such as adding planters and outdoor seating areas.

Cr Andrew Whiley said some streets in the city centre, such as Great King St, would already move to a 30kmh speed limit in December.


Public health physician Associate Prof Alex Macmillan’s recommendations to the Dunedin City Council include:

■ Developing a narrative about streets as public assets for physical distancing and promoting the importance of safe walking and biking for mental health and community resilience.

■ Making the speed limit 30kmh for all local streets.

■ Bringing forward George St works and creating slow-speed pedestrian and outdoor use spaces in busy retail centres, including South Dunedin shopping centre, North Rd at the Gardens, Roslyn shops and Mornington shops.

■ Enforcing more actively legislation prohibiting parking on footpaths.

■ Temporarily repealing provisions for consultation about car park removal, to allow for footpath widening and use of car park space for outdoor seating and dining.

■ Increasing pedestrian phases and shortening pedestrian wait times at busy crossings.

■ Using temporary measures to expand the cycle network and ensure physical distancing is possible on the cycle network and shared paths.



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