As residents across the commonwealth are being urged to stay at home to keep safe and prevent the spread of the coronavirus, there is also concern over the negative effects on one's mental health from being cooped up inside for long periods of time. And that can be especially frustrating with the arrival of warmer weather.
In some locations, like along the sparsely populated beaches of the Outer Cape, getting outside is not a problem. But in densely developed cities, finding enough space to maintain physical distancing is not easy.
This conundrum has been highly debate in Cambridge, where City Councilors voted on Monday to allow the closure of Memorial Drive to cars in order to give residents more space to get outside while maintaining social distancing. The discussed closing potentially the entire length of the road, from the Eliot Bridge to the Longfellow Bridge.
Many residents, like Amy Flax, explained how hard it is to get outside while remaining a safe distance away from others.
“I was biking on Cambridge Street in a protected bike lane and it was very challenging to distance myself from people who were walking on the sidewalk,” Flax said.
City Councilor Patricia Nolan said opening the road to walkers, joggers and cyclists made sense because there's so little traffic these days, with colleges, businesses and schools closed. “We are telling people definitely it is healthy for you to go outside, it is healthy for you to get fresh air, it is healthy for you to be able to get some exercise. And it is completely unhealthy for you not to have space to do that,” Nolan said.
But there was pushback from other city officials who worried that Memorial Drive and potentially other city streets would be clogged with people, creating what Public Health Director Claude Jacob called “de facto block parties."
Police Commissioner Branville Bard added that his office is already being inundated with complaints to monitor recreation facilities and public parks for people who are not social distancing. Opening up more areas would put a further strain on his department, Bard said.
City Councilor Marc McGovern expressed concern that Cambridge streets could end up overrun by residents of neighboring communities.
"People from Watertown, Belmont, Somerville and Boston have all gone online and said, Cambridge should do this," McGovern said. "If we close streets to cars, people will have more room to spread out [and] those streets are going to become more attractive and we'll see more people go to those streets."
Despite this opposition, City Councilors voted 5-3 to have the city manager work with the Department of Conservation and Recreation to the close at least parts of Memorial Drive for the duration of the stay at home advisory — until at least May 4. Currently, Memorial Drive is closed every Sunday from Western Avenue to Mount Auburn Street. But, as Nolan said, proponents would like to see the road closed for its entire length, and potentially more city streets, as well.
The debate that played out in Cambridge is happening in many other communities, as officials attempt to strike a reasonable balance between requiring people to stay inside and away from each other in order to be safe, while allowing enough space so that people can observe physical distancing while enjoying the outdoors.