With more people restricted from daily travel commutes, pedestrian and bicycle trails are increasingly busy. Although a sign of healthy activity, this surge raises new ‘social distancing’ concerns.
A trail for every community in America: That’s the aim behind a new petition launched by the trail advocacy group Rails to Trails Conservancy (RTC).
And unlike the organization’s traditional motives — to help create expanded and safer pedestrian and bicycle networks for healthier lifestyles — RTC now says its mission is critical to help curb the spread of COVID-19.
“Because of the way the virus spreads, medical and health experts agree that being active outside is crucial to maintaining well-being — as long as we keep a safe social distance,” RTC wrote on its site last week.
“But surging demand for trails and outdoor places is making it increasingly difficult for people to keep 6 feet of space between each other.”
To that end, RTC is circulating a petition that urges mayors and local elected officials to close down some roads to motorized traffic, effectively bolstering cities’ trail networks. The move, RTC says, will help “create safe places for walking and biking for all Americans during the COVID-19 public health crisis.”
Petition: Convert Streets to Bike, Pedestrian Paths
According to the petition, an RTC trail count conducted this month found a 200% increase in pedestrian and bike traffic over the same period last year. That has raised some concerns by RTC and others of inadequate trail infrastructure to accommodate the federal government’s 6-foot social distancing guidelines.
In an effort to address the added demand, Philadelphia even closed Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to help relieve traffic along the Schuylkill River Trail. But RTC believes more needs to be done.
“Many communities don’t have outdoor facilities equipped to handle the surge in use, especially as trails and parks close and limit access,” the group said. “For example, typical sidewalks, especially those in denser communities, are not wide enough to allow for 6 feet of social distancing.”
So, RTC is requesting signatures to help sway local leaders to shut down some city streets to cars and allow access to bikes and pedestrians. The petition specifically targets municipal governments. RTC said it will deliver the signatures to the National League of Cities and the annual U.S. Conference of Mayors at the end of June.
To learn more, check out the petition here.