Our suburban neighborhood’s Facebook page recently tackled an oft-repeated battle: Should runners stay on the sidewalk or is it OK for us to be on the road?
Or as my neighbor, who says he barely missed hitting a runner who darted in front of his car, put it: “Attention runners. Help me understand the infatuation of running in the road? I don’t get it, especially when there are very nice sidewalks.”
In Michigan, pedestrians are not supposed to “walk upon the main traveled portion of the highway” where sidewalks are provided. Where sidewalks are not provided, the law says, pedestrians “shall, when practicable, walk on the left side of the highway facing traffic which passes nearest.” Being a scofflaw in this case is a civil infraction.
My friends and I meet up to run at 5:15 a.m. a couple of days a week and follow all of the rules for running in the dark. In fact, we look like a rave is running through the neighborhood. But, frankly, we typically do end up on the road for many reasons, including:
- Cars parked blocking the sidewalk
- Overgrown trees and shrubs
- Surprise sprinklers pointed toward the sidewalk
- Uneven cement
- Wasp nests on trees near the sidewalk
- Dogs in yards who charge at passersby
- Things like basketball hoops, hoses and large toys blocking the sidewalk
- Cars backing out of garages
- Neighbors who don’t shovel or salt in the winter
- Dark, spooky spots that look like they were cast for a movie abduction scene
In what I hope was a polite response to my neighbor’s post, I acknowledged runners’ responsibility to be seen (by wearing high-visibility or reflective gear and/or headlamps) and to not dart in front of cars or run too close to the road when cars are around. I also thanked my neighbor for his concern for our safety. But I also listed several of the above reasons for why some of us do end up on the road. My response was echoed by several other runners, but the original poster (and others) did not appreciate what we had to say and accused us of not following the rules.
I’m left perplexed. What’s a runner chica to do? For now, my friends and I continue to run on the road for long stretches if it’s just not safe to stay on the sidewalk, running against traffic, wearing proper, high-visibility gear, and keeping our eyes and ears peeled for cars. We’ve yet to have any close calls, in large part because we’ve been doing this long enough that we know our neighbors’ habits (I’m looking at you, guy with the two cute Maltese dogs who love to bark “ferociously” at us), so we can avoid potential trouble.
It really would be nice to run on smooth sidewalks with no risk of tripping (done that), twisting an ankle when falling into someone’s too-deep lawn edging (a week before my longest-ever race) or almost getting hit by a teenager or sleepy driver pulling out of their garage (every. single. time.).
But the reality is that our sidewalks are a lot like the people who share our quest for an idyllic home in the ‘burbs: imperfect. And we wouldn’t have it any other way. (Except for the neighbors who don’t pick up after their dogs — they all suck!)
Where do you stand in the road vs. sidewalk debate? (Click on “Continue Reading” to leave a comment.)