Summery weather has made sections of London’s busy parks tricky to navigate

Lured from their homes by a combination of summery weather and a growing sense that restrictive lockdowns are beginning to ease, thousands of Londoners have been making their way to their nearest public park to stretch their legs and get some sunshine. 

Since the weekend, London’s parks – and the pathways that intertwine them – have been teeming with walkers, joggers and cyclists all looking to soak up their first taste of summer after an unseasonably cold spring spent mostly indoors. 

The balmier the day it seems, the bigger the crowds and the bigger the crowds, the bigger the challenge: how to navigate the sometimes narrow pathways while still keeping a proper physical distance?

“There’s a lot of people out because of the weather, for sure,” said Sonya Rogers, out for a stroll just steps away from London’s Blackfriars Bridge.

“I think it’s hard to distance. Everyone wants to come out and enjoy the weather and it’s tough, especially if you do have narrow pathways it’s hard to say away from everyone.”

Londoners keep their distance, for the most part

Blackfriars Bridge is among a number of choke points in the city where officials have closed the route to vehicular traffic to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists for physical distancing. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

While some find navigating the crowds daunting, others, like Skye McCleod see it as not that bad, so long as everyone follows the rules. 

“There’s lots of social distancing,” she said. “Usually people just step aside.”

For the most part, people are following the rules, according to Orest Katoylk the city’s chief bylaw officer and the man in charge of the effort of cracking the collective whip when it comes to physical distancing in public parks. 

He said balmy weather on the weekend saw people out in large numbers and despite the sizeable crowds, Londoners were pretty well behaved. Bylaw officers didn’t write any tickets, but they did give out 60 warnings. 

“We’re seeing high compliance,” he said Monday. “We have our megaphones and we’re alerting people. We didn’t see anything close to what the media is showing in Toronto with their parks.”

What Katolyk is referring to were the large crowds sprawled in the sun splashed field of Trinity Bellwoods Park in Toronto over the weekend. The mob was so big, Premier Doug Ford compared it to a “rock concert.” 

Still, there along London’s Thames Valley Parkway are certain choke points, such as tunnels, pedestrian bridges or narrow spots rimmed by swamp or hills, where strangers don’t necessarily have the two metre distance recommended by doctors. 

Yasmin Bilodeau said those places are why she plans her walks. 

“It takes a lot of planning and thought about how close you are to other people, it’s definitely hard, it’s definitely a concern.”

What’s the risk of passing too close on a path?

The bridge that spans the Thames River between Ivey Park and HMCS Provost offers just enough room for two-way traffic to give each other a two-metre berth. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

How much of a concern? The region’s medical officer of health, Dr. Chris Mackie said while the risk of catching the bug by passing too closely on a public pathway is low, it’s still a risk. 

“The reality is passing by somebody briefly is a relatively minor exposure. For a close contact we usually consider 15 to 30 minutes of face to face contact and so those environments there is some risk,” he said. 

If there are too many people on the pathway, or you feel uncomfortable with the amount of space between you and the other people on the pathway, Mackie said it’s best not to take the high road, the low road or even the road less traveled. 

“There is a risk, it’s relatively minor, but why take it? Especially when people are running hard or cycling, they might actually be exhaling significant numbers of droplets and that’s not something you want to be walking through.”

It’s why Mackie recommends not using the path at all. It’s what he and his own family do anytime they visit Harris Park. 

“I know in normal times you absolutely need to stick to the path, let the grass grow, preserve nature, but when there are large numbers of people using that path you’ve got to use alternatives.”