I consider myself a careful and cautious pedestrian. Whether I’m walking or running, I never assume cars can see me, or that they will slow down or stop if I’m in their way. I know that doesn’t make me immune — I might be minding my own business and still be taken out by an inattentive driver who veers off the road — but I try to minimize my risks.
At this time of year, when shorter days force me to do many of my runs in the dark, it’s inevitable that I’ll be on the trails less and on the roads more. And that means that I’ll be trying to coexist with a runner’s natural enemy, the automobile, in that most dangerous of habitats, the evening rush hour. As you might expect, I choose to avoid confrontation as much as possible, keeping myself to sidewalks or access roads, crossing streets carefully, and making myself highly visible through lights, reflective clothing, etc. just in case.
But it sometimes happens that I simply have to have a direct interaction with a car and driver. For example, while running along a main road, I need to cross a side street, and a car needs to turn onto that same street at the same time. What do I do? Well, I stop, of course. And what does the car do? Well, it stops, of course, or worse, it slows to a crawl, inviting me to proceed but offering no assurances that it will actually let me pass unmolested.
In this stand-off, each party is trying to do the right thing, but it isn’t a satisfying result. There’s no way I’m assuming the car will stop; I have everything to lose if it doesn’t. And the car is trying to be responsible by assuming that I will ignore the rules of safety (like so many runners) and blithely continue across the intersection, heedless of any possible disaster.
So I stop. The car stops.
I try to gesture to the car to go ahead. The driver ignores my gestures, perhaps gesturing back or perhaps flashing the headlights.
I’m faced with a dilemma: proceed, by running a few feet in front of a vehicle that is more than capable of flattening me, or stand my ground, insisting that the car goes first. It’s an awkward few moments, with both sides getting increasingly irritated. But the longer it goes on, the less inclined I am to make the first move. If we were both to lurch forward at the same time, the car would not be the one damaged.
Eventually, I pretend to be tying my shoes or something, and I finally induce the car to go ahead. I’m sure by now the driver is cursing stupid runners, but hey, at least this stupid runner lives to jog another day.
Th things is, I don’t think there’s really a solution here. As long as runners and cars share the same spaces, the risks on one side so far outweigh the risks on the other, that the frustrating interactions will continue. And I will continue to be paranoid. Sorry, cars. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that there isn’t something out there trying to kill you (or capable of killing you without trying).