Dear City Council,
It’s past time to make our city a safe place to run.
Perhaps this is going to seem like it only applies to runners.
But hear me out.
I couldn’t wait to move here. I’d looked at average temperature for January, and it looked like I could run without risk of frostbite almost all season long. I dreamed of winter running, imagining how wonderful it would feel to be in shorts whilst the rest of the world retreated to the treadmill.
I was willing to put up with heat and humidity to have year-round running temps. I was excited to be moving to a small town where surely — surely — I could run without risk of bodily harm. Even though sidewalks aren’t common in the small-town south, I erroneously assumed that there would be roads here with a shoulder deep enough to run or roads less traveled where I could run without playing frogger.
I was wrong.
There is exactly one bike lane in town, approximately a mile long, where I can safely run from my downtown home. I have to run on the bike lane and not the sidewalk when I run back and forth on this stretch, because the sidewalk is so damaged (and completely blocked off in two areas) that I can’t physically access the sidewalk in places.
The rest of the town, with the exception of a very small downtown area, is either completely lacking sidewalks or the sidewalks start and end at will. It’s almost like sidewalks have been deposited here by a SimCity novice, placed just to get the residential zoning to grow. This lack of sidewalk might be okay if there were shoulders instead that were wide enough to run on. But alas, that is also not the case. Often the road’s edge ends so abruptly that the white line marking the edge of the road is eroding into the gulley. I don’t mind running on technical terrain, but even I can’t navigate that morass.
For fun, I did a little experiment to see exactly how much of the town was runnable. I embarked on this adventure one early morning run, as I resolved to only run on sidewalks and turn around when they ended. In 75 minutes, I had to make no less than 13 full stops to turn around. I didn’t count where the sidewalk was so damaged it should really be called scree. I ran through the places where bushes and trees had almost completely obstructed the sidewalk.
The price of this folly was a branch that slapped into my face so violently, it bled.
Adding to the joys of running here, I’ve yet to go on a run where I don’t get honked at, perhaps because I’ve chosen to run in a sports bra (on warmer mornings). Or perhaps because I’m dancing along a minuscule shoulder. Or perhaps this is just a friendly southern hello? All of the above?
Even better, it’s more often accompanied by catcalls and shouts. Every run is truly a delight.
So it’s not runnable. So what?
Well, if it isn’t runnable, it’s also not walkable. And definitely not bike-able. Recent research suggests that people feel more connected to their towns if they can walk from place to place. For a town trying revitalize the downtown, I think we want to encourage people to travel from place to place on foot, not dissuade them. Plus, moving at least 20 minutes a day is proven to improve mental, emotional, and physical health. Don’t we want this for all residents, not just runners and cyclists?
I hope we do.
To help, I have a few suggestions:
- First, build more sidewalks. It seems like a fairly simple solution, but then again, I’ve already noted I think city planning is like playing SimCity, so I’m no expert here.
- Second, create some marketing about how to respond to runners for residents. I think a quick reminder that it’s not okay to honk or shout at runners is a nice start. Suggesting that drivers get out of the way of runners would be a super bonus. In a family-centeric town, perhaps you might even ask residents to consider how they’d like their daughters, sisters, mothers, or other women they care about to be treated when they were running and behave accordingly.
- Third, truly delightful would be adding some more running and biking trails. I’ll even help. I’ll plan them, reach out for sponsors, find funding, sit in city planning meetings, anything.
And I just want to love our town and make it better.
P.S. You can reach me almost every morning along the bike lane. Depending on the day, I might be there for hours.
Has your community taken steps to be more pedestrian-friendly? Have you chosen where you lived based on its runnability?