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Friday, April 10, 2020

Minimum Width

During this time of social distancing due to COVID-19, many essential workers are traveling by bike, and others use them for their limited excursions outside for exercise. A bike ride on the nearly empty streets easily enables social distancing, and generally feels safe as long as you avoid the wider streets that seem to attract reckless speeding. Where the social distancing gets difficult is on the bridges.

Most of the bridge walkways are far too narrow, as though they've been treated as the space left over on the structures, which people who have been left out are permitted to use. These walkways have long been poor connections for cyclists, since it is technically illegal to actually ride over them. The regulations ostensibly address the concerns about cyclists sharing inadequate space with pedestrians, where a wobbly rider might accidentally jam their handlebar into somebody's ribs.  The narrow width takes on a new dimension when social distancing becomes a safety imperative. Any essential workers who rely on the bridges to get to their jobs are forced into unavoidable contact with others.

But what if they met the minimum recommended width for a shared-use path?  As it turns out, a width of 10 feet, plus a two-foot shoulder on each side, provides just enough space for people to maintain six feet of social-distancing, as long as they both stay to the sides.  Obviously, this would be a bare minimum for social-distancing purposes.  It does not account for people walking side-by-side, which may happen if people in the same household go out for some exercise.  At any real level of activity, it seriously curtails opportunities for cyclists to overtake pedestrians.  Additionally, it doesn't account for the larger distancing that is advisable for people working out.

In practice, the minimum recommended width is often treated more like an aspirational goal, and the shoulder space is often sacrificed on bridges.  If the precautions of social distancing become a more regular concern that will be taken into account in design, it would reinforce and perhaps expand an actual minimum width for shared-use paths.