Yesterday I ran at dusk. As I approached a major intersection a mile from my home, I stopped to take a panorama of the traffic waiting to move in the growing darkness.
I had arrived as the traffic lights changed. Drivers were shooting through the intersection at the last minute, eager to be on their way home. A few cars made sweeping right turns in front of me.
It all made me realize how invisible a runner or cyclist can be to traffic in a November twilight.
Because our running and cycling makes us feel good, alive and present in this world, it is easy to forget that most people still do not anticipate our presence. When you think about all the things going on behind the wheel, with drivers already struggling to read traffic and deconstruct the various types of headlights and taillights zooming around in the half dark, you really can’t blame a driver for not noticing a small figure jogging in place at the corner of an intersection.
Add in the fact that drivers now have other distractions taking up their attention such as touch screen directional and radio controls, cell phones and even iPads within their reach, and you really cannot trust the idea that anyone is going to see you.
Cyclists should very well know that you cannot ride after dark without good lights on your bike. But even bright lights can be missed in traffic, or construed for some other type of vehicle. Runners wearing headlamps are frankly hard for many motorists to interpret. The reaction is more likely to be, “What the hell is that?” over the desired response, which is “Oh, a runner. I need to separate hazards.”
So be careful out there. That’s the simple message on this Friday. Let traffic have the right of way. Even when you have the Walk sign at a busy intersection, look both ways and take full measure of the traffic around you and what it is doing. For all the reflective clothing we wear, drivers are still confused by the phantasm of headlights coming at them from all directions.
Err on the side of caution. Plan your routes well, and give yourself plenty of room on the side of the road when you run or ride after dark. It’s that simple. And that vital.