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NDC Survey Shows COVID-19 Still Major Concern in Outdoor Public Space

Updated: Jan 29, 2021

Our first survey about this topic was conducted in May 2020. This survey is a follow-up to assess changes in behavior and perception throughout the summer.

COVID-19 has impacted our daily lives in ways we never expected. On March 22, 2020, the State of Ohio issued a stay-at-home order requiring non-essential business and operations to cease, limiting/banning public and private gatherings, and taking other steps to limit the spread of the coronavirus. When the number of cases in counties throughout the state changed, public health directives were adjusted accordingly. Throughout the pandemic, outdoor space has typically been understood as less risky for transmitting the virus than indoor spaces.

The COVID-19 Outdoor Public Space survey was designed to gauge how Central Ohio residents have changed their behaviors to adapt to the risks presented by the global pandemic on outdoor activity.

The goal of the survey was to assess the impact of restrictions and the existence of the virus in general on a variety of outdoor activities, including using sidewalks, multi-use paths, and visiting public space like parks and regional trails. Survey questions asked about changes in how respondents navigate public space and about their stress levels when encountering others in public places.


Select Results

  • Of the activities asked about, socializing and running errands were the most stressful for respondents.

  • Respondents reported walking and biking more, but using other modes less.

  • Nearly half of respondents reported difficulty maintaining safe social distancing on public sidewalks.

  • Many people are forced into illegally entering the roadway to maintain safe social distancing when outdoors.


Select Long Responses

“Overall I think that the biggest problem is people who are unwilling to follow the guidelines, not with the public space themselves.”
“Eliminate jay walking policies. Reduce speed limits. Create shared environments on low- traffic residential streets. Take lanes and give it to outdoor patios. Give neighborhoods a revolving festival street to gather outdoors.”
“I am a lot less worried about outdoor spaces than indoor spaces.”
“Some street parking should be removed to increase outdoor dining options for bars and restaurants and increase the ability to distance while walking along the sidewalk.”


Expand pedestrian facilities in high-volume areas

Many cities reduced the width of their sidewalks when expanding roadspace for vehicles in the mid-20th century. Today, some neighborhoods experience crowding on sidewalks—and especially when social distancing guidelines are considered. The City of Toronto identifed ten key hot spots where there are lineups or pinch points on sidewalks for a space expansion pilot, dubbed CurbTO. The goal is to install 100 sidewalk expansions throughout the city to help with social distancing.

Reduce high-touch points in the built environment

Many cities are using the pandemic as an opportunity to improve infrastructure and policy for pedestrians. For example, pedestrian “beg buttons,” where people must ask permission to cross the street at a signaled intersection, are being removed due to the public health hazard they pose. This sign (left) was installed in Providence, RI to let people know that the walk signal will automatically initiate.

Build pop-up bike lanes

Berlin (pictured left) quickly installed pop-up bike lanes during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in Spring 2020. Milan, New York, and many other cities also took swift action to implement and plan expanded protected bike options. If not now, when traffic is low and people are adapting, then when should these options be built?


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