by Tom O'Grady
Nearly every runner has a story about a close call with a vehicle while out training, some more benign than others. A common and annoying occurrence is the “near-miss” at an intersection where a driver hasn’t come to a full stop and begins to “roll through” the intersection or blindly turn right. When they realize with a startle that their car is about to cross paths with a human on foot or a bike, they usually slam on the brakes and give you a confused look as your life runs before your eyes. I have had many of these encounters in the twenty-plus years I have been running, and there is seemingly no appropriate way to deal with the situation. A smack on the hood of their car, a mean gesture, or a few choice words usually incites anger from the culprit. But entirely ignoring the transgression does nothing to alert the driver that their inattentiveness is endangering other people.
One friend of mine was so tired of dealing with “roll throughs” and being “buzzed” (when a car gets so close that it almost hits you) that he ran with a HyperWhistle, the world’s loudest whistle. His intent was to startle any driver who endangered his welfare on the road. The first time he used the whistle was in an underpass. While it successfully caught the driver’s attention, it also burst his eardrum! While this story has some humor, others do not. While going to physical therapy, I met a cyclist hit by a driver who was not paying attention while leaving a gas station. The cyclist not only missed months of training but nearly lost his life!
Other situations that put runners and cyclists into close proximity with cars sometimes expose them to harassment and less obvious danger. I had one memorable encounter while running with the cross-country team at RPI when a vehicle passed us and pelted us with food. This was a step up from the typical “run-Forrest-run” verbal harassment we were used to. And although it was somewhat funny to us after the fact, it was also unsettling and potentially dangerous. How so? Because that encounter made it possible for a car to surprise us without giving us any ability to anticipate or respond to the driver’s intentions. If this doesn’t seem dangerous to you, then do a Google search. There are millions of stories of runners or cyclists killed by drivers who were being verbally or physically harassing. The leap from seemingly harmless harassment to a deadly encounter is easier to make than many realize.
Until I graduated from college, I hadn’t considered how public safety and urban planning are intertwined to keep pedestrians safe on roadways. Like most people, I assumed that roads were meant for cars and that you must be cautious if you run on roads. Fortunately, I became more versed on the topic for two reasons: I had friends who lived in pedestrian-friendly cities, and I took public health classes that discussed public safety topics. One thing I learned from friends who lived in cities such as Boston and around the Capital Beltway of greater Washington, D.C., was how easy it was for them to commute by foot or bicycle. They could run-commute ten or more miles to work without encountering much direct contact with traffic. The thought of accomplishing a similar commute in the Capital Region seemed near impossible.
However, in August 2020, the Capital District Transportation Committee announced New Visions, a regional plan for improving transportation in the Capital Region through 2050 (www.cdtcmpo.org/transportation-plans/nv2050). The plan’s goal is to strike a balance that will ensure better safety and improve walking/running and bicycling options while enhancing economic development efforts. New Visions is an initiative that HMRRC members should take note of and contribute to as we can all benefit from safer roadways. And safer roadways mean safer training and healthier lives.
For additional information on local efforts:
State to spend $110 million on pedestrian safety
Safe Streets – It Can Be Done | Albany Bicycle Coalition
Scanning the Albany 2030 Draft Plan
Capital District Transportation Committee report says ...
Albany region transportation plan focuses on climate change ...
Facebook Link to Capital District Transportation Committee
Tom O’Grady’s Archive
A Look at the Olympic Marathon
Summer Training – Building a Foundation for Success
Review: Staying the Course: A Runner’s Toughest Race
Plan Your Summer Running (previously “Racing Season”)
Athlete Profile: Alan Via
Book Review: Neal Bascomb’s The Perfect Mile
Thomas J. O’Grady, Ph.D., MPH - Tom is a public health professional and researcher who is also a NASM certified personal trainer and a USATF Level 1 and VdotO2 certified run coach. For more information on training or coaching contact OGrady.Strategies@GMail.com or visit www.ogradystrategies.com.