Thursday, November 4, 2010

Running in Traffic

Yesterday: 7.5 mile tempo run, average 7:53 pace; 2.7 miles at 7:07 pace
Today: 8.6 miles at 8:43 pace

The weather continues to be awesome in Austin, well, at least for runners.  There is no humidity and the mornings are cool.  Yesterday the temps stayed in the 50s all day, with on and off drizzles and gusting winds.  I don't think the other Texans appreciated that, but it wasn't so bad for me.  Don't get me wrong, I love having sunshine nearly every day, but I am also not so wussy that I refer to 55F as "cold".  Texans broke out the winter coats yesterday...I am not even joking.

City of Portland's pedestrian safety campaign slogan
Today I would like to share my opinion about road running and that constantly nagging obstacle of traffic.  Some of us are blessed with easy access to running trails and bike paths, which keep us out of traffic and away from cars.  I often seek out trails for my runs, as one major benefit is that I don't have to contend with street crossings, stop lights and cars.  However, the majority of my running is still done on roads.

I often feel that the drivers are out to get me.  They view me as an annoyance and an inconvenience, for forcing them to slow down on a residential street, not drive in the bike lane, or wait 12 seconds longer at a stop sign.  Like many runners, being around traffic makes me nervous because I never know when some driver is going to hit me.

To avoid this problem, I try to make use of sidewalks when I can.  Last time I checked, cars cannot drive on the sidewalk.  There are three things that prevent me from doing this all the time though.  First, sidewalks are uneven and unpredictable surfaces.  Sometimes they turn suddenly, or tree roots have cracked the concrete, or they suddenly stop.  The road, on the other hand, is usually in better condition and smoother, so on a quiet street I prefer to run in the road.  Second, sidewalks are made of concrete whereas roads are (typically) made of asphalt.  Running on concrete causes a lot more impact on the legs than asphalt.  Finally (and most importantly), many many streets in Austin do not have sidewalks.  That's right, there are no sidewalks.  I don't understand it, it's like they assumed that people wouldn't walk anywhere.  Whenever I find myself running on a sidewalk-less street, which is pretty much on every run, I have no choice but to run in the road.

For all of the reasons above, I find myself doing a lot of running in the road. This, of course, puts me in direct competition with the traffic.  Over time, I have developed habits to minimize my risk.  First, I run as far to the right as I safely can, in a bike lane or shoulder if available.  These are areas cars are not supposed to drive in, although that doesn't always hold true.  Second, I almost always run against traffic.  This makes it easier for me to spot approaching cars and in some cases make eye contact with a driver.  Also, I never cross in front of a car unless I can make eye contact with a driver.  Even if I have the right of way.  I make eye contact with the driver.  That is because many people in their cars have forgotten that pedestrians exist and are often surprised when they spot one.  For this reason, I never assume the driver knows that I am there.  Furthermore, I freely use hand signals.  If I want to pass in front of a car, I put a hand up with the palm out towards the driver, indicating they should stop.  I thank drivers when they are courteous and occasionally flip off the drivers that are jerks.  If I am running at night, I always wear a bright color like white or yellow.  All in all, I simply never assume a car won't hit me and am always on the defensive.

So what motivated this post?  On several of my regular running routes in Austin, I find myself on relatively busy roads that do not have sidewalks.  These stretches of road are usually short (<.5 mile) connectors such as a highway overpass.  This also makes them unavoidable to get between point A and point B.  These sidewalk-less roads all have four lanes, two in each direction.  What I find amazing is that drivers will see me running towards them on the right, outside of the road.  The left lane will be unoccupied.  They could easily move into the left lane.  They chose not to move into the left lane.  They chose not to slow down.  They chose to drive by me, within a foot of me, at full speed.  Amazing!  Is it a game? because I don't want to play.

So this is my plea for the drivers out there to be nicer to the runners and cyclists and SHARE THE ROAD!  Sometimes it is beyond our control as runners to be in the road instead of on the sidewalk, but that doesn't mean we want to play Russian roulette with our lives.  Please slow down as you go around me, and I promise to return the favor if I am the one driving.

1 comment:

  1. It's amazing to me that people, when driving, never look right. Never. Not once have I run near a car where the driver was looking in my direction... I will usually just run (or even walk) behind the car just to make sure I don't get hit. Hopefully the drivers down by you will be a little more courteous in the future! (perhaps you should just put this post up in coffee shops and gas stations around town!).

    Also, heard you on the RRT again... are you sure you're in grad school? How are you finding the time?? :-) (maybe I feel differently because I'm working an extra job...)