How to Avoid Crowded Trails During COVID-19

henry dunbar active transportation arlington county
Henry Dunbar Tweet Us @BikeArlington@BikeArlington April 24, 2020

Henry Dunbar is the Director of Operations for Active Transportation. He is a year-round bike commuter and wants to make it easy for everyone to get around by whatever mode they choose, except driving alone which should be harder.

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The novel coronavirus has brought new realities to the way we work, build community, and get by day to day. The way we get around by bike is no different. The County bicycle and pedestrian counters tell a story about how residents are adjusting.

Many of us have taken to Arlington’s trails to get some exercise and relief while maintaining social distancing because of COVID-19. Like us, you’ve probably thought to yourself: “Woah, these trails are busy.” And you would be correct.

The Story from the Trails

We looked at several of our bicycle and pedestrian counters in March and April and compared them to the three-year averages for March and April 2017-2019.

  • Custis Trail near Bon Air Park
  • Mount Vernon Trail at Roosevelt Island
  • W&OD Trail near Bon Air Park
  • Key Bridge East
  • Trail Use is Up

    After the first weeks of massive telework and school closures in late March 2020, traffic on three local trails was up 50% to 243% over the three-year March average (2017-2019), depending on the day or mode (walking vs biking). Traffic on the Key Bridge was flat or even down.

    On the weekends, the pattern was the same with a usage slightly peaking from 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. But on the weekends, the trails are seeing significant crowding. The Mt Vernon Trail and W&OD Trail counters have each shown several weekend afternoons in March 2020 with more than 600 pedestrians and bicycles per hour passing by.

    Afternoons are Busiest on the Trails

    Since April 2020 when Virginia Governor Ralph Northam issued a much stricter stay-at-home order, trail usage has declined a little during the weekdays (yes, those still exist). Usage on the weekends in April has still been averaging 48% above the normal 3-year average and is still clustering in the afternoons. The highest one-hour period on the Mt Vernon Trail still showed 483 people.

    We’re seeing a consistent pattern that the late afternoon (rush hour is apparently still a thing) is an especially busy time. People are bunching up on the trails in the afternoons, making social distancing difficult if not impossible.

    Adjust Biking and Walking Habits

    Area residents are clearly voting with their feet and pedals, trying to find activities that are still allowable. The solutions are simple and easy. First, try to get out early. You will likely face less the half the number of people on any given morning trip compared to an afternoon ride. But that of course is not foolproof if everyone has the same idea. Keep an eye on what the volume in your neighborhood is like.

    Another solution is to find a non-trail place to go to walk or bike. Low-volume side streets are plentiful and reachable in a few short blocks even in the most densely developed sections of Arlington.


    Photo Credit:

    Sam Kittner/

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