Pedestrian Safety – Oxymoron?

Because we know drivers aren’t always paying any attention – three simple rules to help runners and walkers stay safe.

Is it just me or is the pedestrian vs. car problem getting worse?

After reading the comments on the  and the recent tragedy of a , it seems like it's becoming a bigger problem.

I’ve had several close calls myself while running around Alameda or Bay Farm Island. If I can run on a path or the beach that’s the best, but getting there is like running the gauntlet. 

As one reader commented on the Most Dangerous article, you can’t ever expect a driver to see you let alone stop for you. Living in San Francisco taught me that no one ever sees you – you’re on your own to ensure your safety, but this is true no matter where you live.

The first rule is to always keep your head up. Be actively aware of your surroundings at all times. This is wise not only to avoid a close call with a car but for general personal safety, especially for women. Always know where you are and who (or what) might be around you. 

Second rule: Whether running or walking, never, ever wear headphones. I know it’s fun, I’ve done it, but I’ve been surprised one too many times by cars getting too close and sometimes dogs coming out of nowhere. Now I go without and I don’t miss it. I let my brain go blank or meander its way around a problem with work or other issues. I’ve solved a lot of problems that way.

Third rule: If you’re running in the bike lane or in the street, as I do (when there’s room to do so safely), the correct side of the road is on the left – going against traffic. Many runners choose the street over sidewalks because asphalt is a wee bit softer than concrete. Also, and this is just me, but I feel safer with a wider field of vision in the street and sidewalks are rife with tripping hazards. Just move to the left, toward the curb, for oncoming cyclists. They should know you’re in the right place and not give you any lip.

Facing traffic as you run (or walk) ensures that you can see cars coming at you, because we know they won’t always see you. If you’re on the wrong (right) side of the street, they’ll be behind you where you can’t see them and that’s a problem. If you’re out after dark, always wear light-colored clothing. Wrap yourself in a string of blinky lights, wear a head lamp or a reflective vest – something.

I cross streets all the time behind cars that never look in my direction to see if anyone is there and they always get a friendly knock on the trunk. I’m sure it startles the drivers but that’s part of the fun. They might remember to look next time. It’s an ongoing challenge to stay safe but we have to assume no one in a car is paying attention. 

For more info & safety tips, check out Runner’s World and Road Runner’s Club of America

“Let’s be careful out there.” (Golf clap to anyone who can name where that line comes from.)

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Julie Bonachea February 02, 2012 at 03:42 AM
Hill Street Blues :-)
Jack Witherspoon February 02, 2012 at 05:17 AM
I'm not a runner, but I would hope (and wish) that all walkers & runners use the same rule we have taught our children - when crossing a street look for traffic and don't cross unless you can look at the eyes of the driver and that he/she sees you. There have been to many times that I'm making a turn off one street to another and the person walking has his/her head down, covered by a hoodie, etc. and when I hit the brakes, they give me a stare like "you didn't see me here?". I understand that the cross walk and most anywhere the pedestrian has the right of way, but people need to remember that there are a number of ways that drivers can be impared (age, amount of light, glare, drink, etc.) and that it's always in their best interest to be defensive walkers/runners.
Robert Somers February 02, 2012 at 01:50 PM
Damit too late for my hill street blues golf clap! Cause I do enjoy a good golf.. And yes drivers don't always see you running or biking so don't zone out too far with the iPods either!
frank February 02, 2012 at 02:23 PM
There are way too many vehicle vs pedestrian accidents in Alameda. It would be helpful from an educational standpoint if after the inncident some of our local news or Police released a followup to their investigation. It always seems you read of these inncidents almost on a weekly basis without the name of the victim released and then it all disappears till the next inncident. There is little or no enforcement of the hands free law in Alameda. Walking around I see people using their phones all the time. many times with children in their cars. As far as pedistrians crossing the street. People are glued to their smart phones looking into the screen and walking directly into traffic. My other complaint is on park St. The trucks unloading merchandise pull up just short of the crosswalks. Someone crossing the Street must come out around the trucks and their is no visibility for approaching cars.
Turnstile February 02, 2012 at 02:25 PM
If your going to wear headphones, just plug in one side. If your going to run on the street, stay close as possible to the sidewalk. That white line separating bike lane and car doesn't mean sh*t to a 2 ton rolling metal hunk if you know what I mean.
Marty February 02, 2012 at 03:01 PM
I'm a runner, too (for almost 35 years now). And a walker. And a cyclist. And a driver! Whenever I'm on foot and wanting to cross a street where cars are not stopped by a signal or stop sign, I simply wait until the cars are gone because I just assume that drivers can't see me. Sometimes I have to wait - gasp! - 30 seconds! I continue to be amazed at how many people will deliberately walk across a street at night wearing dark clothes. Yes, they have the right-of-way. Yes, if someone hits them, they will be in the right, but they will still be dead. One night within the past several weeks, it was raining. I was driving on Lincoln at about 23 mph (yes, you all hate being behind me, I know), and some guy wearing dark jeans and a dark hoodie decided it was a good time to cross at Stanton Street, I think. Even going the slow speed I was going, I almost did not see him. Someone going even a few miles over the posted speed limit may have killed him. After I stopped, I looked ahead and behind, and there was no one else coming. Personally, I would have waited the extra 10 seconds to let the car pass and then cross.
Marty February 02, 2012 at 03:02 PM
By the way, it's true that asphalt is softer than concrete, but it only makes a difference for huge trucks, not for 100-200 pound people wearing cushioned running shoes (I'm a civil engineer, too). Running in the street or in the bike lane will only increase your likelihood of getting hit by a car or bike, or will force a cyclist to have to ride into the path of an oncoming car, so please stay on the sidewalk if you are a pedestrian.
bette page February 02, 2012 at 03:43 PM
new rule: don't wear all black when running in the bike lanes in the early, dark, morning. You are NOT visible on Santa Clara Ave - the lights are too dim and the trees too dark. Better yet, get out of the street and use the sidewalk where you belong. Oh, and to the idiot who rollerblades at 5:00 AM in all black (including goggles (!) and helmet) The teeny little red and blue LEDs in you gloves make you look like tail lights of car from a block away - not a pedestrian. I noticed you now have your small son in the same getout with you. DUDE - he's so small you can't see him above the roof line of cars! Way to go, dad of the year.
Joslyn Hidalgo February 02, 2012 at 04:36 PM
There seems to be a misunderstanding about pedestrians' right-of-way: many people think that a pedestrian has the right of way pretty much all of the time, and I can attest that that's not the case. Several years ago, I had the unfortunate experience of hitting a pedestrian who walked in front of my truck. He was in a crosswalk at an intersection, crossing against the red light without looking for traffic. I could not avoid hitting him, and he suffered a broken pelvis. The police investigated and found HIM at fault because he crossed against the light. So, pedestrians absolutely DO NOT have the right to cross against traffic, even in a crosswalk.
Frances Montell February 02, 2012 at 04:40 PM
Keep an especially careful lookout for cars making a turn. They are not looking at pedestrians, only other cars. I was almost killed at Encinal and Oak by a driver who turned left and plowed right into the crosswalk where I was crossing with the light.
Cross Creason February 02, 2012 at 05:04 PM
Surely don't hate that you go the speed limit. Would be nice if your habit were contagious (by way of enforcement, divine intervention or spontaneous inspiration)
Peg Rosen February 02, 2012 at 05:58 PM
Been on both sides of this, of course, and I typically side with the pedestrian vs the oblivious driver speeding by --- but not always! The other day I was driving and wanted to make a left turn from a full stop. I looked left, looked right, looked left again, and when I started into the intersection there was a pedestrian who stepped full into the path of the car. I hadn't seen her behind the pillar of the car even though I looked twice. Obviously I was still going slowly and slammed on the brakes, but boy did she read me the riot act. I tried to mention that she might want to be sure to make eye contact with the driver the next time, but she refused to take any responsibility for her own safety. I guess I'd like to see more common courtesy on both sides.
Jeff Mark February 03, 2012 at 05:10 AM
This raises an important point, that we're all in this moving-around-town thing together, and we all have to watch out for others' presumably-innocent mistakes, and most important, be nice — I really wasn't trying to run you over. That's no less true today than it was when the hazards of walking downtown were locomotive smoke and horse manure. I don't care if you're walking, driving, biking, on skates, or riding a Segway, stop, look, listen, look both ways before you cross, heed traffic control devices, y'know all those things they taught us in school? I've been thinking, since this Patch discussion started, that some kind of good, old-fashioned public education campaign could be useful. (New York's anti-littering campaign in the 60's was famously successful, and let's not forget Smokey the Bear.) Nothing patronizing or condescending, something good-humored, gentle, more reminding than scolding. Wouldn't even be all that expensive, relatively speaking. Yeah, there's no money for it now (there's apparently no state money for anything), but if the idea gets around... I mean, really, when you think about it, that we all manage to move around in the same area without bumping into each other (more than we do) is pretty amazing in and of itself; a prime example of emergent order.
Jennifer Loring February 03, 2012 at 06:43 AM
Great ideas for police follow-ups and a public education campaign. We could use a raccoon - we have a lot of those here in Alameda. I totally agree - we're all responsible on some level and have to cooperate toward optimal safety. As for running in the street vs. the sidewalk, like I said, I can see much farther, much better (again, when there's room enough to do so safely) and am not as likely to trip on uneven pavement or someone's toy left in front of the house, etc. Also, as a woman, I don't want to be anywhere near shrubs & other urban cover where creeps might be lurking. Call me paranoid, but I've been followed, by drivers, actually, in nice neighborhoods (Saratoga, near where I grew up) and am well aware that you cannot assume anywhere is safe from predators. Another reason I forego the headphones. You can take the sidewalk, I'll stay where I've felt safer for the past 30 years. Golf claps all around, but louder for the Hill Street Blues fans. ;)


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