Vancouver runners find alternate routes amid COVID-19 as officials discourage Seawall use

Stanley Park seawall closed to bikes but should runners stay off too during pandemic?
The Vancouver Park Board has closed the Stanley Park seawall to bikes to allow for greater physical distancing and now some are suggesting runners should stay off too. As Kristen Robinson reports, some joggers are already seeking emptier paths on their own during the pandemic.

As local and provincial officials shut down parks and public spaces across B.C., some runners are getting creative to find new or under-utilized exercise spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For Wes Regan, the change to his daily routine has been a positive one.

“I enjoy not having to worry about ducking and dodging and diving around to avoid people,” he told Global News.

READ MORE: Cities face growing calls to expand streets, re-open parks amid COVID-19 outbreak

With joggers and pedestrians crowding the city’s Seawall, the Burnaby resident is seeking out a lonelier path during the public health emergency: choosing to run in empty industrial and tech parks between office hours in order to practice safe physical distancing.

“I think some people have been a little agitated by runners that come through [parks and popular outdoor spaces],” said Regan.
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“They might breathe quite heavily and you hear them coming up behind you, and I think that courteousness will go a long way to get us through this pandemic.”

Coronavirus reality check: physical distancing one week after new measures introduced
Coronavirus reality check: physical distancing one week after new measures introduced

A recent paper from Belgian and Dutch researchers emphasizes that the “social distance” rule of two metres, or six feet, applies to people who are standing still — and does not take into account the potential aerodynamic effects introduced by walking fast, running or cycling.

Bert Blocken, a civil engineer and professor at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, is the corresponding author of the preprint that used computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulations to track the slipstream, or cloud of particles, behind walkers, runners and cyclists.

The results — which have not yet been peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal — indicate a person is most exposed to droplets from walking and running when they are in line with the person in front of them and situated in their slipstream.

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READ MORE: Small space and no equipment? Here’s how you can still exercise

The risk, according to the findings from Blocken and his colleagues at KU Leuven in Belgium, increases as the distance between the lead and trailing person decreases.

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“This suggests that avoiding substantial droplet exposure in the conditions of this study can be achieved … either by avoiding to walk or run in the slipstream of the leading person or by keeping larger social distances, where the distances increase with the walking or running speed,” the paper reads.

The researchers suggest staying about five metres behind fast walkers and 10 metres behind runners when there’s no headwind, tailwind or crosswind.

Running is a great excuse to get outside and stay fit
Running is a great excuse to get outside and stay fit

In a social media post on April 8, the Vancouver Park Board’s general manager urged runners in the city to take a look at the information on “slipstreaming” in Blocken’s research paper.

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“Let’s keep the seawall and public spaces safe for all during the COVID-19 emergency,” said Malcolm Bromley in the tweet.

Stanley Park has been closed to vehicle traffic since April 8. The park board closed the Stanley Park Seawall to bikes on April 10 to further enable physical distancing.

Cyclists are now riding car-free roads through the city’s crown jewel, leaving the Seawall for pedestrians and runners.

“We’ve been assured by our medical officer of health here in Vancouver that it doesn’t materially pose a risk if somebody zips by you quickly, but still, it’s perception, and it’s a courtesy,” Bromley told Global News on Sunday.

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READ MORE: Coronavirus: One quarter of Canadians still not fully social distancing, poll suggests

At least two Vancouver Park Board commissioners are pushing for runners to stay off the Seawall during the pandemic.

“This is a serious issue runners should not be on the seawall or paths at this time,” wrote John Coupar in an April 8 tweet.


“2 meters 6 feet distancing works while standing or walking….not running,” he added.

The next day, board chair Camil Dumont praised Regan’s new running routine while passing it on to other runners, urging them to “please skip the seawalls and busy parks for now, we all thank you!”

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“If they can [run or jog in popular areas] safely, that’s fine,” said Bromley.

“If they are fast runners and they’re training, it’s probably advisable for them to go elsewhere where they can run at their own speed and not run into anybody.”

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READ MORE: Coronavirus: Finding social distancing loopholes not worth the risk, experts say

Regan is already taking that advice as a courtesy to others out enjoying the region’s trails and sidewalks. He says everyone need to find new ways to exercise safely during the new reality.

“I do think it’s worth considering opening up the municipal golf courses or closing down streets to traffic, because people are driving less,” Regan said.

“It would really help runners and walkers find new spaces to be active in while this is happening.”