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A Mile in Someone Else’s Shoes

March 23rd, 2011 2 comments

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!

Categories: bike, opinion, running Tags: ,

How the Bicycle Improves Our Communities

February 21st, 2011 No comments

It’s no secret that I dislike cars. Cars are a necessity in this age, unfortunately, but I believe the isolation they foster is a major contributor to the loss of community that is present in urban society. Rather than make this post about a negative, I want to view the positive: that the bicycle and “alternative” forms of transportation are the keys to restoring this.

My generation is accustomed to instant-gratification. We want something, we buy it online. We want entertainment, we turn to our instant-queues and on-demand. We want to get somewhere, we hop in our cars and are there in almost no time. It’s no surprise that the concept of riding a bike to our destination, or taking public transit, is not even a consideration. These activities take too long and we are impatient. But what is often considered to be a waste of time, is actually a huge opportunity for personal interaction with our neighbors and community members.

When I ride my bike to work I pass through many neighborhoods. I am mostly riding on side streets and bike paths, so these cut through the hearts of the communities that lie on my way to work. There are few cars, and most of the interactions I have are with people who are out walking or exercising. Many of these people I see at the same time every day, greeting them with a “good morning” after my “on your left”. I see people working in their yards, caring for their houses and proud of their neighborhoods. I see children walking to school, playing and racing each other as they go.

By the time I arrive at work I feel energized! Apart from the satisfaction of arriving at my destination under my own power, there is a sense that I have been somewhere. I have taken part in a very human thing: enjoying the presence of other people. This is why we first gathered in villages, built towns and cities, we crave these interactions and the sense of community. As more and more people jump in their cars, remaining effectively isolated for the entirety of their journies, we lose this aspect of our humanity.

While I believe that there are many ways for us to recapture this, the bicycle is by far the most efficient way of placing ourselves back into our communities. As more people choose to ride, either for commuting or for fun and exercise, more bicycle routes will be planned and built. At first these will link schools and parks, benefitting our children and allowing them to grow up more invested in their neighborhoods. This will rebuild the community that we are losing, not all at once, but one bike ride at a time. My choice is to show my kids that they can get wherever they need to go by riding their bikes, and to not be afraid of saying “hello” to people as they go. My choice is to lead them into what I hope will be a better future by example, by choosing to ride my bike to work and using public transportation.

You can foster this growth as well! Find a bike store, fix a bike yourself, find safe bike routes to the places you visit most often. By increasing your comfort level with this mode of transportation you will be more likely to choose it as an option. Invite your family to join you on your rides, ride to an ice cream store! Ride to work once a month, or even once a week! The great thing about a bicycle is that anyone can ride one. Your journey to a better community starts with a single pedal stroke!

New Qualification Times for the Boston Marathon

February 17th, 2011 No comments

The Boston Athletic Association released new registration procedures for the Boston Marathon this week (see this news article for details). Essentially it boils down to the fact that qualification standards are going to get tougher by 5 minutes (actually 6 minutes due to the revoking of the 59 second rule) and that registrants that exceed their qualification time by a greater margin will have priority registration. By doing this the B.A.A. hope to assemble a stronger field than any other marathon.

There seems to be a lot of debate in the running community over whether this decision is a good or bad thing. It was certainly clear that the registration process had to change; the race sold out this year in just a few hours, leaving many qualified runners unable to register due to work or home obligations. I felt especially bad for some runners of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Denver Marathon this year who were attempting Boston qualifying times on a course that turned out to be longer than a marathon. Boston registration opened and closed the next day, and I’m sure more than a few runners were frustrated when their non-qualifying times were adjusted to qualifying times weeks later. Too little, too late for these athletes.

My opinion of the move is mixed.  While I think the tightening of the qualification standards was inevitable, changing the registration process to favor faster runners is unfair. There are plenty of runners capable of running well under their qualification times, and with the current running boom the demand is certainly high enough to sell out the field through “advance registrations” only. This may mean that runners who run a qualifying time within 5 minutes of the standard are not even given the opportunity to register! If the B.A.A. wants to limit the field to faster runners, which is certainly their right, they should do it solely by tightening the standards and not by introducing strange new registration practices. From 1980-1986 the marathon qualifying time for men under age 40 was 2:50, and they had no problems filling the field then. Is there any reason why they shouldn’t introduce such strict standards again? Why not reduce the times by 10 minutes instead of 5 and leave the registration open? At least then runners will have a goal to shoot for instead of “you need to run 3:05, but probably 3:00 to be safe.”

It seems to me that the attempt here is to avoid facing too much negative press by using a wishy-washy registration process, but I think they should just come right out and say it: if you want to run Boston, you are going to have to run faster. For me nothing changes. In 2013 I will be 36 and my qualification time will be the same 3:10 that it is now, but that’s not going to stop me from training for a 3:00 marathon.

Categories: opinion, running Tags: , ,