Cycling in COVID-19 times
We are looking for clear direction and the nature of this pandemic is such that rules keep changing. Peel Public Health and our municipal governments are the constant for reliable advice for our local community.
COVID-19 effect on Community Cycling Program (CCP)
While we adjust to the “new normal” for cycling in COVID-19 times, we will be facing restrictions such as ‘social distancing’ (or ‘physical distancing’). There are potential silver lining opportunities to make ourselves healthier by safely cycling more and adjusting the infrastructure to make cycling safer.
The COVID-19 pandemic has suspended all CCP programs and events in Caledon and Brampton. Peel Public Health is discouraging even small gatherings of people, so it is not possible to organize Pedalwise single protégé or group rides. Our partners have closed all their venues, so it is not possible to open the Brampton Bike Hubs or Caledon Bike Hubs and operate BikeWrx sessions or seminars. Peel Public Health has informed us not to expect an easing of restrictions for several months. It may be well into the fall before life returns to anything that could be classified as “normal”.
Recreational cycling has already been banned in parts of Europe, and our local political leaders have indicated regulations here could become tighter. Brampton and Caledon parks have just been shuttered. Cycling in Brampton and Caledon is still legal but that could change if Peel residents do not demonstrate better social distancing compliance.
Existing trails and open roads present a safety challenge for cycling activities in maintaining social distance. Most multi-use paths are too narrow to allow either cyclists or pedestrians to pass with a 2-metre buffer. The roads require single file travel but bunch up could occur at intersections. Added to the possibility of disease transmission is the risk associated with injuries. Cyclists’ falls requiring medical assistance will put unwanted load on the already overburdened healthcare system.
Countering this push for more restrictions, is the realization that outdoor physical activity is an imperative for on-going physical and mental health and well-being. Cycling for transportation has the added benefit of being safer than public transit from a physical distancing perspective. It also offers a cost-effective option for marginalized workers. There is a significant risk to discouraging walking and cycling and the urgency increases the longer the public lock down is in place.
The risks and benefits need to be balanced and actions weighed accordingly. Toronto and Vancouver are currently looking at barring motorized vehicles along certain streets in urban neighbourhoods to allow more public space for pedestrians and cyclists to spread out and maintain social distancing.
If the municipalities and the Region could follow Vancouver and Toronto in closing certain streets to motorized vehicles, the CCP could then host events, seminars, DIY bike repair workshops and Pedalwise mentoring activities that would make effective use of this freed public space.
Considering the fluid situation, it is difficult to put definitive plans in place. We are investigating options that will facilitate at least some form of Community Cycling Program presence in Brampton and Caledon during the COVID-19 crisis. We have had discussions with Brampton Regional Counsellors and Staff on strategies that will encourage cycling that conform to social distancing guidelines, both for transportation and recreational purposes. We are in contact with Peel Public Health and have received guidance on sterilization of our tools and equipment.
Even if events and activities cannot be run until the fall, some program elements can be offered virtually through videos or interactive online chat rooms. We are also looking at ways that we can strengthen our social media profile and encourage safe “solo” riding activities.
Once the height of the crisis has passed, we still expect the public will be reluctant to gather indoors for fear of contagion. Depending on when restrictions are relaxed and, assuming the weather is still conducive, we are looking to start the resumption of Bike Hub activities, first in outdoor spaces. Hopefully the crisis will be well past once the snow flies and we can resume regular services at that time.