For those of us with access, biking or walking trails are a place where residents go for daily exercise, to disconnect and unwind from the demands of a workday or to socialize with local running and cycling groups. These networks are centralized hubs for our communities and are the backbone of not only our physical health but our mental health, too.
The spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) has raised some justified concerns as to whether or not residents should still be out using these trails. Is it safe to exercise outside in public areas? Do highly trafficked trails provide enough space for users to practice safe social-distancing practices?
At the time of publishing, and even in areas with a shelter-in-place mandate, it is still widely acceptable in most of the world to temporarily leave self-quarantine and exercise outside by yourself. We know this is a fluid situation and new information is presented on a daily basis, so check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website (and your local county’s guidelines) for up-to-the-minute developments and recommendations.
As the managers of these trails, it’s critical that parks and recreation departments post signage, create social media campaigns and update their websites with current best practices for community members who use these in their jurisdiction.
Now that less people are commuting to work and are instead working from home, walking and biking trails are being used more frequently for breaks and pre- and post-workday escapes. Because of this, trail traffic likely peaks in the morning before work, during the midday lunch hour and for an hour or two after traditional work hours. To protect your residents from a higher number of people on the trails, encourage that they walk or ride their bike during“non-peak” hours—roughly between 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. or after 7p.m. Of course, every area is different, so if you’ve noticed a pattern, share your local trends with your residents.
Use the 6 Feet Rule
By now it’s commonly accepted (and recommended by the CDC) that “social distancing” means keeping 6 feet between yourself and the people around you. Just like residents are practicing this at the local market or drugstore, it’s important they use these techniques while out on the trails as well. Remind them to not walk or ride their bike with their usual group or club, and if they’re meeting a friend for some exercise, keep six feet apart and don’t share snacks or water bottles. Also, this sounds obvious, but emphasize that if they’re feeling even the slightest bit under the weather, stay home.
Wear a Protective Face Mask
The reports have shifted from “only medical-grade masks are effective” to “sew-at-home cloth masks are better than nothing.” With the current shortage of medical-grade N95 masks, we highly recommend urging your community to leave these for the hospitals and health clinics and rather sew or create their own. The DIY versions aren’t as effective, but they do limit the spread of the virus from bodily fluids associated with coughs and sneezes (they also help people touch their nose and mouth less). California and Pennsylvania are two states recommending their residents wear masks whenever they leave the house; this includes while using crowded public walking and biking trail systems.
Sanitize Public Service Bikes
If your walking or biking trail network has a public bike share component that is still accessible, educate your community on how to safely use this program amidst coronavirus concerns. Have them wipe the seat, handlebars, rack, shifters and brake levers (or wherever they touched) with antibacterial wipes before AND after their ride, and remind them to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer immediately after returning the bike. If within your budget, consider installing hand sanitizing or antibacterial stations adjacent to the self-service station or hiring someone to wipe down the bikes a few times a day.
Keep Your Bodily Fluids to Yourself
As we mentioned above, DIY masks help contain fluids emitted while sneezing or coughing. Notorious in the cycling scene, riders often spit or forcibly clear their nose while out on rides. Encourage cyclists to be mindful of this when out on the trails and look around to make sure there’s double the 6-foot minimum before doing so if absolutely necessary. Remember, even if they are feeling great and think they aren’t sick, those positive for COVID-19 can be asymptomatic.
Opt for Trails Over Public Transportation
Some areas have completely shut down public transportation, and others are running a very limited schedule for people who rely on these services for work. If your residents have the option, encourage leveraging riding or walking to work (or to the market) on the trails instead of taking the bus or train. This is less about staying safe on the trails and more for keeping members of your community safe as a whole by utilizing a free, safe, open-air network.