Systematic observation of physical distancing behaviors of trail users during the COVID-19 pandemic


During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, opportunities for indoor and sometimes outdoor recreation were restricted across the world.   Despite restrictions, many greenways and rail-trails saw increased use.  Messaging from the federal and state public health authorities stressed the importance of social distancing and other preventive measures in reducing spread of the coronavirus.  Little is known about actual behaviors of individuals and groups using these outdoor recreational opportunities.  This study used passive infrared cameras to systematically observe physical distancing behaviors on multi-user trails to assess safety implications of trail use during June 2020. Most interactions occurred with the recommended six feet of distance between users. Maintaining six feet of distance is more likely to occur when groups are no larger than one person, users pass while traveling in opposite directions, and trails are wider. Messaging on multi-user trails should target how groups pass other groups such as: ‘keep six feet’ and ‘pass single file’.


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