Back to Fitness: Share the Road Love

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John Andersen

A few months ago, two buddies and I were on an early morning run on Jarmans Gap Road.  

On this particular morning, as we were headed back home on the narrow, unmarked but paved part of Jarmans, we saw a bright light coming up behind us.  There was no noise, so we quickly deduced this was a lone cyclist doing the exact same thing we were doing – starting the day off with a little escape from the real world.  As the cyclist grew closer, we all then did hear a noise and saw a pair of headlights speeding towards us from the rear.  

Pickup truck… accelerating when seeing runners and cyclists on road… caution!!!  

No sooner than we could process what was going on, and with the cyclist almost upon us, the driver of that pickup floored it and recklessly tore right between the three runners on one side of the road and the cyclist on the other side of the road.  The pickup sped off and didn’t need to flip us the bird for us to appreciate how he felt about us.  

Make no mistake, the only deduction you can make from this story is that the driver of that pickup was a total a#$hole with some serious anger management issues.  And there are certainly no new or existing laws or rules of the road that are going to make that particular driver give us the caution deserved when passing pedestrians and cyclists on the road.  

As I have been running and biking in and outside of Crozet for much of my 18 years living here, I have often thought about this particular point—the turbulent relationship between drivers and runners/walkers/cyclists.  In the end, I don’t believe that new rules, shaming, or complaining is going to get anyone anywhere.  I have come to the conclusion that the only thing I can do to make this situation better is to be ridiculously courteous and polite when I run and bike.  

Mostly, I have learned that I can appreciate the other side of these negative feelings.  There are the folks who have lived here long before new developments and people started to change things, and there is likely some resentment at the cyclist in his bright outfit and expensive bike as a representation of a forced change to the older way of life.  I can also appreciate the anxiety that is felt by drivers when we encounter a group of cyclists or runners on a narrow country road.  It is most definitely a feeling of fear that we may do something that may injure these people – who hasn’t experienced anxiety when passing folks on a country road?  And last, let’s just go ahead and admit that not all runners and cyclists are darling examples of diplomacy.  Throw in a few scowls, a few no-waves, and someone flipping the bird and now you really hate these people and no wonder the guy sped through us that morning.  Well, no, that guy is still a total jerk.  

But I hope you can get my point.  As we are out there on these roads, exercising our right to…exercise on the roads, we need to do our part on keeping the relationship between drivers and runners/cyclists a positive one.  

For me, whenever I see a car I always smile and wave a quick wave of recognition and thanks—thanks for not killing me!  It’s amazing how far a wave and smile go in calming these types of tensions.  I myself have been super annoyed as a driver when I have gotten all the way on the other side of the road for a runner and no wave!  Come on!  

Biking is a bit trickier.  Drivers, you should know that when you’re biking at even a medium speed, you really can’t hear anything behind you because the wind passing over your ears.  Also, I don’t own a road bike because to me, these are the scariest things in the world to ride.  Those tiny tires and that forward posture – you really don’t have the luxury to constantly keep turning your head around let alone take a hand off the handlebars to give a big happy wave to a car that suddenly passes you.  Yet when biking I will still try to make every effort to wave and smile to vehicular traffic because every personal interaction matters.  

In 2020, 139 people died walking/running/cycling in Virginia (117 pedestrians, 8 cyclists), and 2125 people were injured (1466 pedestrians, 659 cyclists).  However, of note is that approximately 80% of these accidents were due to distracted driving via cell phones, reading, or reaching for an object according to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.  So as much as I would prefer to demonize that guy driving that pickup that morning, the reality is that I’m probably more likely to get injured or killed running through Old Trail.

If you live in Crozet now, you have seen the huge explosion in residents and the huge explosion of people walking, running, and biking both in town as well as out on the country roads.  This is going to lead to more and more interactions and thought should always be taken on how you can make your part of this equation, whether you are exercising or driving, safer.  

When I was in drivers ed class back in the 1990s, I remember the teacher making a point about being at a stop sign and wanting to turn left, and you see a car coming towards the intersection from that direction, with their turn signal on to their right.  Should you go ahead and turn left since they are turning right?  The teacher then switched to a photo of a terrible car crash and asked us “would you bet your life on someone else’s turn signal?”

I also use this when running or biking—will I bet my life that this driver isn’t distracted?  That this driver isn’t drunk?  That this driver can see me?

I think that besides smiling and waving, we runners and bikers also have the duty to be as visible and safe as possible.  One example is when I see runners running on the asphalt when there is a perfectly good and open sidewalk right next to them.  Newsflash, there is no difference in impact between running on concrete and asphalt, this has been well studied, however there is a big difference in your risk of getting hit by a car and/or giving runners a bad name when you run in the road vs on the perfectly good sidewalk.  

Also, I understand the desire for headphones, but am amazed at the use of two headphones when running on the road with traffic, where your sense of hearing is literally the only sense that will alert you to cars coming behind you, and potentially aggressive trucks like the one that buzzed by us.  Take one earbud out when on the roads or don’t use them at all.

Last, many of you also have found that the predawn hours are the best hours for running and biking.  Good news – there are a million great ways to keep yourself visible – headlamps, waist lamps, glowing vests, reflective gear – you name it.  I remember driving home from work years ago and there was a traffic backup on Rt 250 across from Harris Teeter where a pedestrian had just been hit. I was driving by just as the kid was telling the paramedics “It was my fault, I was dressed in all black and they probably couldn’t even see me”.  He was lucky but you don’t want to ever have to make that admission.  I use a headlamp when running and no driver will ever not see me.

Crozet is quite simply one of the very best areas to live in this country if you like to exercise outdoors.  Let’s do our part in keeping up the goodwill and safety, sharing the road, and sharing the love. 

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