Artist wears coronavirus ‘social distancing machine’ on city streets to show how difficult it is to stay 6ft apart

Toronto campaigners want pedestrianisation off streets, and point to narrow sidewalks that make social distancing almost impossible

Gino Spocchia
Thursday 23 April 2020 10:17
Canada closes borders to non-citizens and non-residents

An artist and geographer in Toronto, Canada, has assembled a ‘social distancing machine’ to show city authorities how difficult it can be for people to stay 2 metres apart on some of Toronto’s streets amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Daniel Rotsztain made the circular device with plastic and rubber tubing before videoing artist Bobby Gadda bumping into objects and pedestrians on a walk through downtown Toronto last week.

The duo, who have called for the widening of Toronto’s sidewalks while social distancing measures are in place, used the viral video to prove to city authorities that maintaining a 2m distance from others at all times was impossible.

Mr Rotsztain said in a Twitter post that he created the social distancing machine “to show why @cityoftoronto needs to close major streets like Yonge during COVID-19. Our sidewalks are too narrow to keep a safe distance.”

During their minute-long video, which has had more than 360k views on Twitter, Mr Gadda is shown swerving on and off the sidewalk while other pedestrians are forced to do the same to maintain a 2m distance.

On Yonge Street, the sidewalk is so narrow that Mr Gadda had no option but to walk in the middle of the road.

Humorous captions including “out of the way buddy” and “dude” have helped the Toronto Public Space Committee members to prove their point.

“Toronto is kind of in the midst of an identity crisis,” Mr Rotsztain told Streetsblog. “It was once a city for people, but it’s now primarily designed around the car.

“The Toronto Public Space Committee wants to be playful and experimental and bold when it comes to widening the pedestrian realm again. Especially during the pandemic, which is a really dark time for many of us, it’s important to keep messaging positive.”

Mr Rotsztain has called on Toronto residents to petition Mayor John Tory and Toronto City Council to close some downtown streets to cars so that pedestrians can walk safely while maintaining social distancing.

“Toronto can become a part of a movement of over 60 cities that have turned over road space to people on foot and bike to maintain their distance,” reads one petition letter shared online.

Canadian cities including Vancouver, Edmonton, Montreal and Brampton have been among the first to prioritise road space for pedestrians and cyclists to maintain social distancing measures.

But Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, said last week that increasing pedestrian space would encourage more people to leave their homes.

“We do not want to inadvertently encourage people to leave their homes through opening streets, which could result in higher pedestrian demand and social gathering,” said Dr de Villa.

On Wednesday, Toronto’s Medical Office of Health announced that confirmed cases of coronavirus were lower than expected thanks to the city’s advice on staying at home and social distancing .

There are currently 3,416 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Toronto, and 190 deaths in the city since the start of the pandemic.

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