Skip to main content

A new map shows that you can’t maintain social distancing on many New York City sidewalks

A new map shows that you can’t maintain social distancing on many New York City sidewalks


Nearly everywhere in the city, the sidewalks aren’t wide enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19

Share this story

New York’s coronavirus death toll exceeded 19,000
Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

As we stumble into the second month of quarantine in many US cities, it’s clear that by and large, we’re starting to adapt. Things that felt strange, perhaps antisocial and even reactionary — like grocery stores only allowing a limited number of people in at a time — are newly normal. It’s easier to claim personal space even in cities now that most people have accepted social distancing as the norm. That six-foot rule, however, is sometimes hard to follow, especially in population-dense places where the expectation is that people will share public space. In New York City, for example, it’s remarkably difficult: the mayor hasn’t closed many streets, and the sidewalks — plentiful though they are — feel really small.

Earlier this month, tech news site Motherboard asked a bunch of New Yorkers to measure the sidewalks directly outside of their apartments, and it came to the bleak conclusion that “it is simply not possible to social distance on most New York City sidewalks.”

A new map from the developer Meli Harvey shows exactly how narrow the sidewalks in New York are, with colors overlaid onto the city’s grid. (Harvey used data from New York City’s sidewalk dataset to construct their map.) The result is a stark validation of what most New Yorkers felt to be true: there’s just not enough space for most people to stay the recommended six feet apart.

Image: Meli Harvey

The map is also a really good representation of how we think about space now and how we’ve adapted to the assumption that our neighbors are vectors for this disease we can’t see. We know a little bit about how the disease is transmitted from person to person, and we know why it’s important to stay away from each other. That’s why it’s more than a little infuriating that New York City’s mayor doesn’t seem to understand how to safeguard that space for his public — even as the city is undergoing the worst outbreak of COVID-19 in the country.