Rules for Using the Sidewalk During the Coronavirus

This article is from the New York Times, but the rules for using the sidewalk during the Coronavirus apply here .... notes for walkers and runners.

As state after state has announced coronavirus stay-at-home orders, one bright spot remains: It’s still OK to go for a walk. (If you’re not sick, and if you wear a mask and keep six feet away from everyone outside your household.)

I’ve always loved walking and running. Back when it was safe to go to the office, I’d walk in every morning — nearly three miles — even though I live two blocks from a Metro stop. I’ve run three marathons. My favorite way to catch up with friends is not over drinks or dinner, but on long walks.

In this new season of doing everything at home — work, school, church, meals, happy hours, “date nights” — going outside has been a much-needed connection to what life was like in The Time Before. I miss fast-casual lunches and making small talk with my co-workers at our desks and getting a babysitter to watch my kids so my husband and I can go see a movie. But at least I can still get some sunshine on my face, admire the blooming trees in my Washington, D.C., neighborhood and feel my heart rate rise and the blood flowing through my veins.

For now anyway. Increasingly, when I leave the house I find myself not relaxed and rejuvenated by exercise and fresh air but anxious and frustrated at the terrible social distancing job my neighbors are doing. I see people walking in the middle of the sidewalk; families out together en masse, taking up the entire width of the path; cyclists riding down the sidewalk instead of the bike lane.

All of these behaviors make it impossible to keep six feet distance. And I worry that if we don’t change the way we use our public spaces, governments will forbid going outdoors at all.

This is not an idle concern. The Italian region of Lombardy in mid-March banned walking and running outdoors. A few days later, Wales made it illegal to exercise outdoors more than once a day. And even in the United States some walking and running paths have recently been closed by local governments because they got too crowded, including Chicago’s Lakefront Trail and all public trails in Los Angeles.

My panic at losing the ability to be outside came to a head on a recent weekend when I was out for a run on a sunny afternoon. Instead of reveling in the beautiful day, I found myself in a shouting match with a man who was teaching his daughter to ride a bike on a narrow sidewalk along a busy street. I was angry at him for picking such an inconvenient spot for his lesson. He was angry at me for not running on the grass, where I’d be able to stay six feet away.

We were both right (and wrong). I got home from my run feeling stressed and guilty. So much for the mental health benefits of exercise.

There has to be a better way for us all to be outside. It’s my great hope that everyone who enjoys the respite of the outdoors will commit to new norms, to make it possible for everyone to stay six feet away from one another.

Let’s start with the low-hanging fruit: eliminating all the bad habits we never should have had in the first place. No walking in the middle of the sidewalk. No strolling with your face glued to your phone. No spitting!

Additionally, do whatever it takes to stay six feet away from people on the sidewalk. Most of us are used to walking on the sidewalk in a straight line, occasionally moving a few inches left or right to accommodate a passing runner or a kid on a scooter. Now, when we prepare to pass someone, we need to be moving feet, not inches, away. That requires more drastic measures: getting off the sidewalk entirely to walk on the grass or in the street (assuming traffic isn’t heavy), crossing to the other side of the street, sometimes even stopping and turning around to walk in the opposite direction.

And when walking in a group (only people in your household, please!), be ready to shift to single file quickly. It’s lovely that this moment of schools and offices being closed allows us to spend more time with the people we live with — including going on walks together. But our habits for walking in groups need to change. It’s impossible to stay six feet away from a group walking side by side on a sidewalk or even a broader walking path. The only way to stay safe is for the group to walk in single file when someone is approaching.

Don’t ride your bike on the sidewalk. This is an often-ignored law in many cities, but at this moment it becomes essential to follow. There is simply no way to stay six feet away from a cyclist sharing a sidewalk — bikes take up a lot more space than pedestrians, runners or even people on scooters. Cyclists must ride in bike lanes, or stay on wider paths.

Consider doing your outdoor time in the early morning or late evening. That argument during my run was an eye-opener for me: I could keep running during peak hours, at the risk of my own sanity and civility. Or I could set my alarm earlier and run before dawn, when most neighbors are still asleep. I chose the latter. It is painful to lose the extra sleep, but the relaxed, uncrowded run is worth it.

We’re all in this together. I used to think of myself as a runner, annoyed at reckless bikers, or a pedestrian, enraged by crazy drivers. But in this moment, we have to stop dividing ourselves based on our preferred transit mode and instead remember that we’re all people who want to hold onto precious time outdoors.

Runners, before you dart out into the street to avoid a coming pedestrian, check to make sure there are no bikers nearby. Drivers, if you see a pedestrian crossing in the middle of the street, resist the urge to honk and yell — just tap the brakes and remember that in a few hours, you might be that pedestrian, trying to get some fresh air before returning to your home-turned-office-turned-school.

A lot of these changes will feel strange and even awkward. We go outside to lose ourselves in the moment, and it’s hard to always be on alert. If we usually nod and wave to other runners, it may feel rude to run to the other side of the street to avoid them. But if we want to avoid spreading illness while we enjoy the outdoors, we have to live with some discomfort and social weirdness.

Eleanor Barkhorn (@eleanorbarkhorn) is a staff editor in Opinion.


Share this Post

Comments 1

  1. God, its not brain surgery is it. Just a little common sense and courtesy.

    Some of these runners are seriously arrogant and think they totally own the pathways ….. and have absolutely no regard for other users.

    The best solution for me over the past several months doing very long walks has been to walk the back streets – often fascinating, and getting to know areas I have never been into before. Have just done an 11km walk this morning – all but around 1km was back streets, and hardly came across anyone else.

    And certainly no grunting testosterone driven runners !

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *