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COVID-19 increases trail use around Greater Cincinnati

Thursday, April 9, 2020 by Wade Johnston

COVID-19 has changed everyday life as we know it. In a time when so many things are uncertain, one thing is clear: more people are going outside to walk, run, or ride a bike. As a result, trails, sidewalks, and parks are experiencing an influx of traffic.

A look at the data

Tri-State Trails collects daily usage data on five trails in Greater Cincinnati. Since trails are one of the few public places that have remained open during the government stay at home order, we wanted to see how usage was impacted. Below we examine three weeks of data, March 16 through April 4 (the first three weeks of the order), in both 2019 and 2020. Overall, usage is up 30% around the region.

Suburban and rural trails seeing a surge

Usage has more than doubled on the Little Miami Scenic Trail and Dearborn Trail and more than tripled on the Great Miami River Trail. Increases on the Dearborn Trail and Great Miami River Trail indicate that people are visiting routes that are known to be less busy.

If usage continues to increase, it could be problematic for the Little Miami Scenic Trail, which was already one of our region’s most popular places to walk, run, or ride. Read our blog post about how to stay safe on trails during COVID-19.

Urban trails impacted differently

Just outside of downtown, Lunken Airport’s loop trail is seeing a modest increase in usage compared to this time last year. The Purple People Bridge, however, is the only path to have seen a decrease in usage since the quarantine started. This might come as a surprise for our region’s most highly used trail, but we think this can be explained for two reasons.

First off, events that are typically happening downtown during this time of year have been cancelled. Secondly, with so many employers closed down, fewer people are likely using the connection between Kentucky and Ohio for commuting to work. The down tick in usage isn’t necessarily a bad thing, given the circumstances–it likely means people are trying to avoid the busy corridor.

Moving forward

While these data are representative of trail usage, anecdotally, we have seen more people out walking, running, and biking on neighborhood streets. With most sidewalks only being only 5 to 6 feet wide, it makes passing with at least 6 feet of physical distance virtually impossible without stepping into the grass or the road.

When the world reopens, experts are saying our cultural norms will need to stay in coronavirus-mode until a vaccine is made readily available. Which means our busy urban sidewalks aren’t going to cut it to maintain proper physical distancing.

With fewer cars on the road, cities around the world are borrowing traffic lanes to expand space for pedestrians. We think that could work in Greater Cincinnati too. What do you think? Send us a message with your ideas.

About the data

These numbers are raw data collected from our passive infrared trail counters. We run this through an rigorous analysis at the end of the calendar year to ensure accuracy. That process is underway for our 2019 data. Click here to learn more about our Trail Monitoring Program.

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