A few years ago I was just a driver. I didn’t run. I didn’t ride a bike. Today I am many things: I am a pedestrian, I am a runner, I am a bike rider. Each time I have stepped into the shoes of one of these other activities it has required me to learn new things, and above all it has made me better at the other activities I do. Here are some of the things I have learned walking a mile in other people’s shoes.
One of the first things I learned when I started walking and taking the bus instead of driving is that drivers are jerks. I don’t mean that the people who drive cars are jerks, I mean that a nice person behind the wheel of a vehicle is a jerk. The problem arises from the very nature of a personal vehicle: the vehicle is designed to get “me” from point A to point B as quickly as possible, and anything that stands in “my” way is a nuisance. This means that speed limits are ignored, red lights and stop signs missed, crosswalks blown through. Above all, slow moving vehicles must be passed at all costs, regardless of whether they are keeping up with traffic or not. The solution is to get out and walk, ride a bike or take the bus. After you have been narrowly missed by a car speeding through a crosswalk, or found yourself repeatedly catching up to vehicles on the road even though you are “slow moving,” you’ll start realizing that impatience never really gets you ahead, it just makes you unsafe. That knowledge makes you a better driver.
As a runner I learned that cyclists are jerks. They don’t mean to be, but runners and cyclists are different “social groups” and the two do not mix. As the naive runner that I am, I wave at every bike that goes by. The looks I get are those of bewilderment and disgust, “How dare you wave at me, a cyclist!” At some point I realized that they are never going to wave back. “On your lefts” are few and far between, because really it is a “bike path” and other users just need to watch out. Passing within inches, two abreast on the path is acceptable because they don’t want to interrupt their conversation to drop back to single file. The solution is to get out and run! After you have been buzzed by a bike going 30mph with no warning you’ll remember to give that “on your left.” After you, as a cyclist, have been snubbed by all the other cyclists on the path just because you’re running, you may give a little wave to runners as you pass.
As a cyclist I learned that runners are jerks. Half the time they are wearing earphones, so if you shout a warning they won’t hear you, and then jump out of their skin when you pass as if they are shocked that anyone would be riding their bike on the “running path.” The other half of the time they hear you shout, but do nothing to acknowledge it, so you are forced to assume they are wearing earphones, or just oblivious. In addition, the popular response to hearing “on your left” is to actually jump to the left directly into the path of the bike. Running in the middle of the path is acceptable, as is running two or three abreast taking up the whole path, after all no one can possibly be moving faster than they are. If they are running with a dog, the dog will be on the opposite side of the path on one of those 40′ long extend-o-leashes, invisible to the naked eye and razor thin. The solution to this is to get out and ride a bike! After frustratingly trying to pass 30 people who do absolutely nothing when you shout “on your left” you may give a little wave the next time you are running and a cyclist gives warning. You may also stick to the right, and opt to run without headphones, making the “multi-use path” just a little safer for everyone.
The bottom line is we are all jerks when we stay in our own little world and don’t acknowledge the safety or presence of others. We all use the same space every day, whether it be roads, paths, or sidewalks. We all learned to share when we were in kindergarten. But doing the same thing day in and day out makes us complacent, and overconfident in our personal rights. Getting out and trying a new activity makes us better and safer at all the activities we do, and more importantly it makes us better people. Better drivers, better walkers and runners, better cyclists, better at living with each other!