Can one-way trails help with physical distancing?

Close up of feet in hiking shoes on a forest trail Joyseulay/shutterstock

As the weather starts to get warmer, Canadians will increasingly flock to the country’s great outdoors to escape COVID-19 lockup. But even with the vast amounts of open space we have, safe social distancing will be difficult to maintain in some areas, particularly in our most popular parks and public trails. One potential solution? One-way trails.

The City of Moncton, N.B., was one of the first to install signage indicating a one directional approach for using public trails. In early April, the city installed signs at three city nature trails, Centennial, Irishtown, and Mapleton, indicting the direction that path users should follow.

“We were experiencing, particularly on nice days, some congestion on some of our trails that weren’t quite wide enough to allow for social distancing, so we have moved in our three regional parks to one directional signage on our major trails,” said Moncton’s director of leisure services, Jocelyn Cohoon, in an interview with the CBC.

Kelowna, B.C., has implemented a similar plan at the popular Apex Trail just outside of town. At the end of March, the City of Kelowna closed Knox Mountain Drive to vehicles to allow more space for hikers and bikers to distance themselves while using the trail. A week later, they announced that the Apex Trail would be one way up and down Knox Mountain.

In Ontario, large sections of the 885-km long Bruce Trail are currently closed. With the trail passing through land owned by more than 900 different public and private organizations, the closures are somewhat ad hoc. Several sections of trail are already shuttered, including those parts running through Bruce Peninsula National Park, several provincial parks that are linked by the trail, and numerous conservation areas. A FAQ section on the trail’s website, includes the following statement: “[W]e realize we cannot close the entire Bruce Trail. We cannot bar access to all trailheads nor enforce closures. We can however, urge people to please stay away from the Trail.”

Meanwhile, cities are struggling to allow residents to step out for some fresh air, while still maintaining a safe distance from passersby. In Toronto, parking lots were closed to limit the number of people accessing large parks and hiking trails, including the 56-km long Martin Goodman Trail that skirts along the Lake Ontario shoreline. The city is also considering implementing one-way sidewalks on some of the busiest downtown streets, and even blocking off parts of roads to provide more space for pedestrians to pass one another.

The Boston suburb of Beverley, Mass., has already implemented one-way sidewalks along a 1-km stretch of road that follows a local beach. Users are asked to walk in the direction facing traffic or face a $100 fine.

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