One of the first things I learned about living in Chicago was to be very careful running past alleys. I have actually never lived anywhere that had alleys but this city has them everywhere. Our apartment backs up to an alley and for weeks I would hear cars honking as they went past our apartment and I couldn’t figure out why drivers here were so obnoxious. Then I learned that these were the respectful drivers who honk as they approach the intersection so that walkers, or us runners know they are approaching. Now I have a much better appreciation for those honks.
I am amazed by how many drivers are in such a rush to get to wherever they are going that they just fly through the alley without slowing down or giving a respectful honk. When I was in drivers education I remember our teacher mentioning that if you speed down the interstate you will only save about 5-10 minutes on your total trip. That’s on a long distance drive! Imagine how little time you are actually saving by flying down an alley, or rolling through a stop sign. Generally when I see these drivers on the road we inevitably meet up at the next stop light.
These same drivers also tend to think that runners don’t come out when it snows or rains. This winter was rough in Chicago and I did a lot of cold weather running and at times even ran through snow storms. I remember slowing down as I approached a particular alley just as a car flew through and out onto the road without even looking at the sidewalk or oncoming traffic. When the driver realized how close they had been to me they actually stopped their car and put it in park. It was a pretty scary experience.
Yesterday when my husband and I were running we approached a large intersection as a car came up to the red light. The driver rolled through the crosswalk as we approached (and we had the right of way…you know the little white guy on the crosswalk light was saying we could go through). As we were about to step out onto the crosswalk, the driver looked at the oncoming traffic and seeing that it was clear he began to turn, only to realize at the last second that he hadn’t bothered to look for pedestrians in the other direction. He stopped and looked embarrassed, and to be honest he should.
I am not saying that this is a one way street. There are some pretty obnoxious runners out there and I am pretty sure I have been one of them at times.
It is important for us runners to obey the rules of the road too. If you get to a crosswalk and you have the red light, obey it. Don’t try to quick dart past traffic to continue on your run. I know we all have goals for our paces but forget your pace and protect yourself and everyone else on the road.
Be a defensive runner. Just as I assume that other drivers are going to make mistakes when I am driving, I do the same on my runs. If you approach an alley or intersection slow down and look before you cross. Assume that there is a car coming and that they are not going to be looking for you. Even when you have the right of way at an intersection, assume that the driver is not going to yield and make sure you slow your pace down.
Drivers, runners and cyclists should all look both ways before crossing. Our moms taught us this lesson years ago and it really can save a life. It only takes a second to do. It won’t ruin your run, but it can save your life.
Finally, be a smart runner. If there is a sidewalk available use it for your run. When we were in Florida a few weeks ago we saw a runner using a narrow shoulder on a very busy road to do his run. I was stunned because there was a brand new, beautiful sidewalk system right next to him that was empty and at his service.
Make sure you also run against the traffic and never with your back to the cars. Part of being a defensive runner means that you need to know where the traffic is at all times. If you can’t see them, you can’t trust them.
I will also add don’t run through parking lots. These places are scary enough to drive through without getting hit. No one is looking for a runner to come sailing by and it is hard for you to see who is pulling out. Steer clear of parking lots!
And when you are driving remember to share the road with your fellow runners, walkers and cyclists. Give a little honk to let them know you are approaching (from the alley not on the road). Give them a bit of space as you pass on the road and perhaps a friendly wave.
Happy safe running!