Runners & cyclists: You might want to take the opportunity this weekend to squeeze in what could be your last trot or bike ride along the Brook Path for a while. Because the 2.3-mile stretch along Fuller Brook has become more crowded since the COVID-19 crisis emerged, town officials are threatening to enforce social distancing by temporarily stripping runners and cyclists of the privilege to use the path—unless they slow the heck down and walk it instead.
The Board of Selectmen and Board of Health held off voting on a draft order for mandatory face covering use Friday that includes a section excluding runners and cyclists from the path. The boards’ decision making was interrupted by news that the state had issued an order of its own. Runners and cyclists now await their fate on Monday night when the boards reconvene.
The draft order in part reads:
In other words, reduce congestion and improve social distancing on the Brook Path by expelling the people who spend less time on the path because they are going faster and allow the path to remain clogged with those strolling. This would give runners, who have lost their road races, track access and Morses Pond loop access, 1 fewer option for stretching their legs.
Most of the people using the path are walking, often with dogs. So if town officials really want to encourage social distancing on the path they’d ban the walkers and give runners and cyclists free rein. As is, no explanation is offered in the order for giving walkers preferential treatment.
(I conducted a completely unscientific poll for 20 minutes a few hours after the boards met on Friday at State Street and Cameron Street on the Brook Path. I tallied 30 path users: 23 walkers, 2 wearing masks; 4 runners, 2 wearing masks; 3 cyclists, 2 wearing masks; 6 dogs, none wearing masks and all leashed. I suspect the breakdown of runners/cyclists vs. walkers is about right, though not so sure about the mask ratio.).
To be clear: I’m not advocating for walkers to be banned. But neither should runners or cyclists. They can co-exist. It sounds like the town plans to pepper the path with signs emphasizing safety rules, so maybe that will encourage more people to play nicely regardless of their exercise choice.
In the grand scheme of things, foregoing the Brook Path for runners and cyclists isn’t the end of the world. There are obviously bigger COVID-19 issues to worry about. And there are other less exclusive places in town, like the Cliff Estates area, to run and cycle. Though as Wellesley Police Chief Jack Pilecki has pointed out, some drivers have taken the emptier streets as an invitation to go a lot faster. Between that, and crossing over from 1 side of the street to the other to avoid other people, running and cycling along streets has become dicier.
What’s more, steering runners and cyclists to the streets and sidewalks, such as along Central and Washington Streets, isn’t going to do much for the local businesses that the town is trying to support during the coronavirus crisis. Walkers, on the other hand, just might be enticed to do a little curbside pickup if they’re trundling along Wellesley or Linden Square and reading the retailers signs.
Yes, some runners and cyclists can be, uh, disrespectful in terms of their social distancing. And many don’t wear face coverings since it’s so tough to breathe while wearing them during exercise and might not even be advisable to do so. Perhaps the latter point is the boards’ justification for possibly banning drippy, sweaty, spitting and snotty runners and cyclists.
Though as any regular trails runner will attest, the Brook Path has become more congested in recent weeks not because of the surge in runners and cyclists, but due to the increase in those walking it. And while walkers increasingly are leashing dogs, wearing masks and stepping aside, many still walk side by side and require an especially wide berth when walking dogs, even when they are leashed.
While I prefer running on surfaces like that of the Brook Path because they’re easier on the joints than sidewalks and streets, I’ve already pretty much abandoned running on it for now due to its transformation into an obstacle course.
Traditionally, runners have had local trails like the Brook Path largely to themselves in the morning. So one solution would be to cede the trail to runners and cyclists during the morning and walkers during the afternoon and early evening. Not that monitoring something like this would ever fly.
It would seem my best bet going forward if I want to run on the Brook Path, if this overreaching order goes through, might be to rely on the fact that the distinction between my running and walking is near impossible to discern with the naked eye.
(Disclaimer: I’m a member of the Wellesley Trails Committee, but the opinions here are my own.)