It’s Wednesday, April 15, and city streets are transforming into walkable plazas.

Social distancing measures have spawned a grand experiment in cities all over the United States, one that was once only imaginable in urbanists’ wildest dreams: the creation of new car-free zones.

Boston, Minneapolis, Oakland, and Philadelphia are among the metropolises testing out these pedestrian and bicyclist wide-berth wonderlands that allow residents to exercise and get some fresh air while maintaining a six-foot-in-diameter bubble of personal space. In Oakland, the new “slow streets” program hands a total of 74 miles of neighborhood streets over to flaneurs and bikers. Unless you’re pulling up to your driveway or there’s an emergency, these roads are off-limits to cars.

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Some cities, like San Francisco and New York, were already experimenting with car-free corridors prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The conditions that led other cities to join them are, of course nothing to celebrate, but the results could provide planners with more data to improve urban mobility. Transportation, and cars in particular, is one of the largest sources of carbon emissions in the United States, so making walking, biking, and public transit easier and more appealing is key to any plan to fight climate change.

Emily Pontecorvo

Smog clouds

The Smog

Need-to-know basis

The Trump administration has agreed to a $25 billion bailout for major airlines as part of the coronavirus relief legislation passed last month. Few strings are attached. Democratic lawmakers had called for any travel industry aid to include environmental requirements, like a carbon price. But the negotiated bailout includes none, only the condition that airlines pay back 30 percent of the money within 10 years.

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Amazon fired two employees who had publicly criticized the company on both its climate change and coronavirus policies. The user-experience designers had a combined 21 years of service at the company, and were among the leaders of an internal group that has pressured Jeff Bezos to adopt more ambitious climate goals.

Joshua trees are at risk of extinction due to years of development and hotter, drier climate conditions, according to California wildlife authorities. Researchers say that the iconic and otherworldly trees are running out of time, as climate change increases the likelihood of drought — and thus wildfires — in Southern California.

Shannon Osaka

What do you trust? Climate, science, and COVID-19 uncertainty

What’s the connection between climate change denial and coronavirus denial? How can we stay focused on science when facing global health catastrophes? Join the Grist staff for a free live discussion on Thursday, April 16 at 12:00 pm PDT where we’ll dive into these questions and more. Register now!