Sidewalks are meant for walking, and running. In fact, the laws generally require us to keep to the sidewalks when they are available.
However, some sidewalk laws provide an exception. In some states and localities, a sidewalk must be "usable" before we are legally required to run on it. In other places, the laws say it must be "practicable" for runners and other pedestrians to use a particular sidewalk before its use is required.
For example, Ohio’s law says:
Where a sidewalk is provided and its use is practicable, it shall be unlawful for any pedestrian to walk along and upon an adjacent roadway.
These days, the question arises: Is it practicable for runners to stick to the sidewalk when it is crowded with pedestrians who might or might not be practicing social distancing?
The answer is: It is hard to say. We are in uncharted territory, law-wise, health-wise, and running-wise. The last time the world saw a pandemic was 1918, a half-century before the “running boom.”
It is possible a judge or jury would see things a runner’s way if an injury occurred while a runner took to the street to avoid a large crowd of people. That being said, not all judges or members of juries share our passion for running. In some of their minds, if we cannot run safely on a sidewalk, we should not run at all.
We are in a tough spot, those of us who run but who are trying to be socially responsible. The best we can do is to stick to the sidewalk whenever and wherever we can, and to keep in mind the ultimate purpose of running, which is to stay healthy and stay in shape.
Above all else, be careful, regardless of whether you run on sidewalks or streets. Hospital emergency rooms are good places to avoid during the global pandemic.