How biking and running change the way I see roads?

It’s interesting to see how my views on driving changed since I started running 2 years ago on city streets and recently I started to cycle. I live in a nice neighbourhood with plenty of families and kids on the sidewalks. There are 2 schools within blocks of my house. And as a pedestrian, dog walker, runner, biker, motorcyclist and driver I feel I have a pretty good viewpoint on our roads!

In my opinion, there are plenty of cars that drive too fast on 40 km/hr roads. And too many cars aren’t looking out for pedestrian traffic. They just want to get to their destination as quickly as possible.

My neighbourhood has a lot of sidewalks and a lot of shared trail space. But I see lots of areas for improvement now. Let me share some of my thoughts as a runner, cyclist and driver.

Running experiences

I’ve shared my running experiences in previous blogs.

It’s dangerous running city streets. Every time I cross the street, cross a crescent entrance or intersection, I need to be aware. Even with active crosswalks or street lights, cars don’t always yield. I’m shocked by how many cars roll right thru side walks exiting onto the main street. Not many obey any traffic signs like yield signs and stop signs.

It’s how we build our walk ways and sidewalks. In order for a car to see if it’s safe to proceed, the car has to move up to the intersection which usually means driving across the side walk. When you are at that point, and see a pedestrian, it’s too late. You are already past the point of no return.

Let me impress you with my super elite drawing skills.

I live in a crescent that sits directly off a main road. As you exit the crescent, you can turn right or left. If the sidewalk is the grey area, you can see that the blue car must pass thru the sidewalk path that goes thru the crescent entrance/exit in order to see if it’s safe to turn. If there is a pedestrian right there, ready to cross, it’s hard to react, You must proactively approach the intersection and creep up looking for pedestrians first; and drive second.

I can tell you that 99% of drivers just cruise right up to the street level and don’t even think about pedestrians approaching. Almost every intersection is the same. Cars need to drive thru the side walk to see if it’s safe to turn. And most cars don’t look for pedestrians actively.

There is a crosswalk that is a little dangerous in the neighbourhood and it could have been prevented.

Once again, I present my awesome drawing skills.

This is the entrance and exit in and out of my neighbourhood. Cars headed north are exiting, and cars headed south are entering. There is a set of lights at the north end of the street. There is a stop sign for those entering at the t-intersection. Once again sidewalks are in light grey. In addition, the neighbourhood has shared pathways and these are indicated by dark grey. There is a crosswalk thru the road east/west that connects the pathway.

They have planted bushes in the middle of the road that only extend halfway thru. These bushes obstruct the view of the crosswalks. Many cars turning right to exit, look up and see the traffic lights and stomp on the accelerator. I’m constantly peaking around the bushes to make sure it’s okay to cross. In theory, I should plan my walks to always cross westbound since it’s not obstructed, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

In addition, cars entering the area have a clearly marked stop sign but often roll thru and treat it as a yield sign. This is also dangerous if you are crossing west bound on the sidewalk as their view is obstructed. I get the pretty optics they want as you enter our neighbourhood, but it’s a really unsafe area for pedestrians.

I can tell you as a runner, every intersection is dangerous because of this. On a speed running day, it’s even more dangerous since I’m hitting higher speeds that drivers aren’t used to seeing.

In my experience, many pedestrians have gotten complacent in walking city streets. Many do not make eye contact with drivers as they cross the street. This was walking 101 when I was a kid. DO NOT cross the street unless you know the driver sees you. I see lots of walkers on phones that barely look up in a crosswalk. You are actively risking your own life. Put the phone down and cross the street safely!

As a runner, I’m super proactive. I’m always looking for eye contact or a sign that the driver acknowledges me and makes the effort to slow down to allow me to cross.

As a driver, I’m far more aware of these intersections. I’m careful about my speed thru areas with side walks or pathways. I’m actively looking for pedestrians. And I’m driving the speed limit in our neighbourhood.

Biking experiences

I started road biking at the end of July. I covered this in my previous post:

https://denniskreba.com/2022/08/11/how-did-i-get-here/

Biking has changed my view on driving forever! As a driver, I was always upset when I saw a biker on the side of the road causing backup in traffic. Worse yet, a large group of riders that take up a full lane. Most drivers will try to change lanes or give you space while passing if they can, but if they cannot, they’ll slide past you as close as they can so they are not inconvenienced. If only they knew how dangerous this is for the biker.

Selfish drivers can save themselves seconds but the risk is my life! Slow down, take a breath, and realize that I’m vulnerable and I’m not your enemy. Drive a bit slower, and try to move over to the next lane while safely passing me. Don’t get mad at me for inconveniencing you. Smile, wave hello, and safely pass. I assure you that you’ll still arrive at your destination without a noticeable delay.

I spend 95% of my biking on streets and highways with cars. My average running speed is 10 km/hr. My average bike speed is 25-30 km/hr. I wear a helmet for protection and that’s it. Similar to a motorcycle, I’m not going to win a showdown with a car or truck traveling at speeds > 60 km/hr.

Biking has most of the same problems that running does. There are blind spots, cars feel inconvenienced by you, roads and shoulders aren’t built for bikes, very few bike lanes, you have to dodge pedestrians, dogs, and other traffic on any shared trails. Cars think they own the roads and aren’t looking out for you. Cars are in a hurry and you are a barrier to their speed.

When I’m biking, I cannot see a big truck coming up behind me, or a wide load. I have to trust that the drivers on the road see me and give me enough room to keep me safe. In all cases, I try to bike as far over on the shoulder as I can to provide that space. But sometimes that’s a double edged sword, because vehicles don’t give you space if you are on the shoulder, they just speed right past you without moving over a lane.

In my opinion, it’s much more dangerous being a cyclist than anyone else on the road. Pedestrians don’t want you on the sidewalk and cars don’t want you on the road.

On my ride last Sunday, I tried a new route before scouting it. The route was a combination of roads I had been on before and new roads. It was almost all secondary highways in and around Beaumont, Nisku and Devon. The shoulders and roads were tighter than my normal routes. There was some construction, especially near Devon. The shoulders were littered with road signs, pylons, rocks, dirt and other debris. Several times I was forced to hug the shoulder line, rather than safely in the shoulder. I was very close to traffic at some points.

The speed limit was 80km/hr or 100km/hr and most vehicles were going faster than the speed limit. Several semis passed by very close, too close in my opinion, including a wide load that felt it was better to risk my life rather than slow down a little and give me some space.

In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been on that road, and luckily it was only about 2km one way, so maybe 4km total that were without the safety net of a shoulder. I definitely won’t be travelling down the Devon route anytime soon, that’s for sure. But, I guess my point is that I shouldn’t have to worry. If a society cares about multiple kinds of transport on the road, then different decisions can be made.

I guess my question is why construction is “stealing” the entire shoulder for construction signs and why the shoulders aren’t being kept clear? Why is there debris all over the shoulder without any cleanup? I know what all of the drivers are saying: cities and counties can’t keep shoulders clear just in case 1 biker needs it. I suppose that’s true, but there are multiple reasons for shoulders to exist including: break downs, blown tires, pulling aside for an emergency, extra room for wide loads, etc.

Our roadways and sidewalks are built the same way and treated the same way. They are built to minimal specifications without overall consideration to all of the users. Cars NEED parking. Cars NEED 2 lanes for driving. It costs money to make shared trails. It costs money to build bike lanes. Communities NEED lots of trees and meridians. Communities don’t need bike lanes or roadways built to accommodate bikes. It’s time that we prioritize roads as multi-use!

Edmonton is a car city. We rely on cars. Cars are king. I admit that I hated the bike lanes downtown. I’ll likely never use them. The number of drivers impacted versus the number of riders benefitting is a wide margin. We impacted many for the benefit of a few. As a winter city, bike lanes cost more to maintain in the winter, and even less riders use them. Infrastructure in Edmonton isn’t built to allow a person to bike the streets. IF you live downtown, and IF you have a job downtown, then you might be able to benefit from biking infrastructure. IF you live near Whyte Ave, then you might be able to benefit from biking infrastructure.

But I believe that cities should support more biking. I’d like to be able to bike safely all over the city. Let’s go to my excellent drawing skills again to look at a typical street anywhere in an Edmonton community:

You have sidewalks, with green space, then 2-4 lane roadway with green space in the middle. Overall, this provides a community with lots of green space, sidewalks, parking space and roads to drive. Is there no room for better planning to include biking infrastructure? I’m willing to sacrifice or move a little bit of the green space for biking infrastructure without impacting cars. In this case, I believe that functionality over beauty is better. I also believe that the benefits to your community, city, the world and the environment all benefit equally from more green space and more biking. In other words, a little green sacrifice for more biking is equal.

I don’t have any stats on this, but I have a suspicion that the loss of a little green space, and an increase in biking in the city would have an overall positive impact on the environment and health of its citizens.

Do we have to remove roads to create room for bikes? I think we’re looking at the problem incorrectly. Instead of using roads to create bike lanes, we should be looking at how we can use the available sidewalks, meridians and grassy lanes to create bike and pedestrian friendly lanes. Every 5-10 years, the city digs up gutters and sidewalks anyways. Look at redesigning the areas when this happens rather than keeping status quo.

Change in view

As a multi-user of trails and roadways, I feel I have an excellent viewpoint.

As a runner or biker, I’m on a constant look out for danger. The fact is that a car can take my life in seconds. If something happens, I won’t have any time to react or prevent it. I must be proactive. I must look out for cars because the cars aren’t looking out for me. I’d like to see even lower speeds in communities. It’s likely not a popular view, and as a driver, I’d hate it, but it may be necessary.

My community reduced speed limits to 40km/hr and it’s made little or no difference. I see a lot of drivers going 50-60km/hr thru the neighbourhood still. SLOW DOWN! From the main road to your house, it’s likely 10 blocks max. Just slow down. You aren’t going to save that much time. And everyone on the road will be safer.

As a driver, I’m becoming more and more aware. I became a better driver after I went thru motorcycle training. There is so much they teach you in motorcycle training about being safer on the road with cars. You can use that knowledge and apply it to your own driving.

For example, let’s go back to my excellent drawing skills for an example:

This is literally the most dangerous time on the road for a motorcyclist. When two cars are turning left across from each other, and you are in the thru lane. I was in this exact situation in my first months of riding, and the car turned left into me. I hit him at 60km/hr. And my life has been changed forever. I have injuries from that accident that exist today and worsened with another accident years later. I will always approach this situation with caution. If that car turns left in front of you, you need to be approaching at a reasonable enough speed to stop. Ironically enough, this happened to me in a car as well; someone turned left in front of me. Luckily I was prepared, and the damage was limited.

There is also a concept that you never want to be in a blind spot if you are riding in a motorcycle. So if you see a motorcycle speeding up to get in line with you or past you, it’s likely to make sure that they feel safe. The safest place on the road for a motorcycle is ahead of traffic with no one beside you or directly behind you. You can drive a car similarly. Try to make sure that the cars around you are aware of you.

Mostly though, I’m looking for pedestrians and bikes a lot more. I no longer see a bike on the road as my enemy. I see it as an opportunity to safely pass them. I look for pedestrians approaching at intersections. I proceed a little more slowly thru blind spots and crosswalks. I drive slower around my community. I feel great about stopping for pedestrians. I see it as a challenge to be a more considerate driver.

And I’d like to think that I’m viewing bike lanes and bike infrastructure more positively. I appreciate and applaud anyone that is commuting with a bicycle. I applaud the riding groups that get out there and enjoy the road on a bicycle. I appreciate and see you more than ever.

Summary

I’m a runner. I’m a biker. I’m a motorcyclist. I’m a driver. I’m a dog walker. And as Alanis Morissette said “I’m a bitch, I’m a lover, I’m a child, I’m a mother, I’m a sinner, I’m a saint…” The key point that Alanis was making and I’m making: We’re a little bit of everything.

The problem is that most drivers are just drivers. Roads are for cars. Anything else on the road is an inconvenience and slows them from getting to their destination. We all need to think differently.

I’m someone that is trying to use all of my communities infrastructure in different ways. I see the roads with so many perspectives. People should be able to walk and bike on our roads safely. Kids should be able to play road hockey. I want to safely walk my dogs on the sidewalk. I want to cycle on city streets.

I think running and biking has made me a better driver and I see roads and infrastructure so differently now. I think that cities can think and design communities differently with walking and biking in mind. And many are. New communities often have shared trails thru them. But I’d like to see communities go further.

I would love to be able to ride out of my neighbourhood and into the next by using safe roads built with bikes in mind. The most dangerous part of my ride is always the first 5km and the last 5km when I exit and enter the city and/or my community.

Wrap Up

Its ironic: Over 50% of car accidents happen within 5 minutes of your home. This is the exact same area of communities that I’m pitching need to be safer for pedestrians and bikes. As a result, I hope that we would make it safer for cars. Why are we not designing communities to be safer if this is where most of the accidents occur?

So regardless of how you use your community’s infrastructure, I hope you always arrive safely at home. I’d like to think that my viewpoint has changed from a driver of our city roads to a multi-user of our city roads supporting all types of transportation.

Do your part!

  • Slow down!
  • Obey traffic signs. A stop sign does not mean a rolling stop. And a yield sign does not mean half speed. If a sidewalk intersects your drive, approach it more cautiously with awareness.
  • Watch out for pedestrians and bikes!
  • Share the road and the sidewalk as best as you can.
  • Apply the GOLDEN RULE: Treat people as you would like to be treated yourself.

The next time you see a bike, pretend it’s a close family member and pass them safely. The next time you see a runner or pedestrian, pretend it’s a loved one walking in your community. Be safe out there!

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