Today’s blog was brought on by some unfortunate circumstances that happened this morning in Ottawa. Here is the link to the story: http://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/cyclist-struck-and-killed-in-west-end . If you don’t feel like checking out the link, a cyclist was struck by a garbage truck this morning and died from his injuries. Unfortunately these stories are becoming too familiar in Ottawa. The events of how this happened have not been released but it made me want to write about ways that people can keep themselves safe as a runner and as a cyclist.
For those who don’t know, I have recently purchased a road bike after being very jealous of my boyfriend’s bike for a long time. Cycling is fun for cross training and it’s nice to go exploring past the places I can get to when I run.
Being a runner and a cyclist, I have learned that there seems to be some kind of battle between the two groups. Runners think cyclists blow passed them too quickly and too closely. Cyclists think runners take up too much room on the paths and are unpredictable. I can say from experience that both of these statements are true to some extent.
Tips for Runners
The most important thing to remember is that ultimately, your safety is in your own hands and you should not trust someone else with it. Never assume that cyclists or cars can see you. If you are running through intersections, always try and check all directions and make eye contact with the drivers if possible. It is polite to give a wave when they see you to say thank you for respecting the right-of-way. If you find yourself in a situation where the light is about to change, remember that your safety is more important than not having to wait for the light to cycle through. Realistically, your muscles won’t cool down that much and you will be able to continue running very quickly.
Another tip is to be visible and wear reflective, colourful clothing. If you are wearing an all black outfit, it becomes very hard for cyclists and cars to see you until you are right in front of them. By wearing bright colours, you will stand out and you will be safer. A headlamp is also a necessity if you will be running in the dark. It will not only make you more visible but you will be able to see where you are running and avoid running on uneven surfaces.
A lot of runners like to run with music; I am one of them. A good way to make sure you are still aware of your surroundings is to either keep the music turned down low, or only wear one of the headphones. It is a good idea to know what is happening around you, and as a woman runner I like to make sure I can tell if there are people near me while I run. Also, sometimes cyclists will ring their bells to alert you of their presence behind you and you will want to make sure you know they are there. I have watched a runner try and turn around on the canal path and he turned right into a cyclist who was passing him because he did not noticed the bike. The runner got knocked over and the cyclist fell off of his bike. This would have been avoided if both people were paying more attention.
That brings me to my last two running tips:
1. If you are running and need to turn around on a path or you are getting off the path, make sure to check behind you. This is just like switching lanes in a car; you need to check your blind spots.
2. Run on the far right of the path to allow adequate space for faster runners and cyclist to get around you. They will understand your intentions to stay in that lane and will not be wondering if you are about to dart out to the left. Only move over when you need to pass people.
Both of these tips are second nature to me at this point and I think they are very important. Sometimes cyclists will not ring their bells and assume that you know they are behind you. Unfortunately, some bikes are so quiet and you have no chance of knowing. You take your safety in your hands by checking if it is safe to turn around or move over, instead of assuming no one is behind you. As for running on the right, it will keep you safer by making your movements predictable. I have actually had a cyclist yell “thank you” at me for doing this. Of course by the time I figured out what he yelled, I couldn’t respond because he was already gone.
Tips for Cyclists
The same tips for visibility apply from the running section. Wear bright colours and reflective material, especially if you will be riding on the roads. Drivers get very territorial when bikes are around so you want to make sure they can at least see you. If you are biking on the roads, you should know that legally (in Ontario anyways) you are entitled to the entire lane if you want it. Sure, this is annoying for drivers, but this speaks to taking your safety in your own hands. If you find yourself on a street that is narrow or there are a lot of cars parked along the side, you can take up the whole lane. Drivers will be annoyed by this but its better than getting hit by a car or by someone opening their door. If the street gets wider and you feel comfortable letting the car pass, pull over to the right and wave them on. Again this is ONLY if you feel comfortable doing so.
In terms of safety gear for your bike, you should have lights, a bell and a helmet at the very least. Another important thing to remember is that you are legally supposed to have a bell, so please use it! It is your responsibility when passing pedestrians to alert them that you are there. Especially those women who go out for “power walks” and take up the entire path. They will not move, will not notice you, and will probably get scared when you do ring your bell. It is better to be prepared than be the person who accidentally ran a lady over while she was gossiping on her lunch break.
Cyclists also get a bad rep from the select people who like to weave in and out of traffic. This is very dangerous and it makes it difficult for the cars around you to keep track of where you are. I don’t care where you are rushing to, your life and safety are more important than getting somewhere two minutes earlier than you planned.
It is more important to be aware of your surroundings on a bike because you are moving faster and more things can go wrong. DO NOT wear headphones on a bike. You need to be able to hear what is happening around you, especially if you are riding around cars. Listening to your favourite song is not as important as making sure you are safe.
As a last resort, don’t ride your bike at night time. Unless you have car strength lights for your bike, it is hard to see you and you will have a hard time seeing where you are going. It’s not worth the risk.
A Couple More Things
Reading both sides, you can see how each group can get annoyed with the other. All it takes is being courteous and staying aware of your surroundings. If you are smart about what you are doing and respect everyone around you, there should never be a problem while you are out for a run or for a spin. Don’t take risks that might be regretful and only trust yourself. After all, we do these activities because they are fun and we enjoy them. It’s tough knowing that someone can no longer do that after today.