Monday, October 5

The Suicide Lanes


This blog has its roots in cycling.  Over the seven years I’ve been rambling about here on this back alley wall of the internet I’ve gone from being—really—a wide-eyed neophyte urban cyclist to being a battle hardened full-time bike commuter with a chip on his shoulder and a war to win to a reluctant auto-centric office drone hoping to make a difference in the world despite being absent from the bike seat for long stretches at a time.
Truly, when I started here I was new to the issues.  I was an experienced cyclist.  My urban cycling goes all the way back to my fall freshman semester in college in Nashville, Tennessee when I rode my Huffy Mountain Storm all over the south part of Nashville because my beloved Mustang stayed at home in the stable with a busted motor.  That was 1992.
But I had never really thought about the interplay of bike, road, and car beyond the moment.  I hadn’t considered policy, public opinion, or the implications of choosing to ride a bike instead of driving a car.  I had made the choice many times.  It was my default when it was feasible.  But I had never really given much bandwidth to the whys and wherefores.
The change came when we moved to the Denver area and I became a land use planner.  I had been through some undergraduate classes that opened my eyes to active mobility and related issues.  So when I started bike commuting across the west Denver suburbs I had a new filter.  After a few months of regular cycling on the road and in traffic those issues started to become personal.  After a couple of years my brain had been rewired. 
These days I am not a utility cyclist.  My non-motorized movements is almost exclusively recreational.  I have added running to my repertoire.  To train for long distance trail runs I have been spending a lot of time pounding the pavement.  I’m seeing things in a different light and processing my experiences with a different filter even after all these years.
To run long distances in the rural area where I live you have to incorporate some busy roads or run difficult terrain.  The two main roads bisect the county along the four compass points.  Both roads are major arterials with no shoulders and narrow lanes, yet motorists (myself included) barrel along at excessive speeds.  For runs of less than ten miles there are options that avoid these roads except to cross, but for anything over ten miles or so it becomes necessary to travel on one or the other road for a considerable distance.
On a bike, traveling at 20 mph or better with traffic this is not so daunting.  But on foot, running against traffic, the high speeds and close proximity become a major psychological barrier to getting out for a run for me.
And then there’s Sunny.  Earlier this year a local man—Sunny Yang—was struck by a motor vehicle while running on KY 213 north of Stanton.  Sunny survived, but he’s still locked in a long and difficult recovery.  He may never fully recover.  As I ramped up my mileage and looked at going over twenty miles I was confronted with the reality of running on the dangerous stretch of road where Sunny was hit.
My Strava track bears it out.  I ran an 11:39/mi pace beginning on that stretch bookended by two 12:40/mi miles.  I was nervous.  I wanted off that road.  A few weeks ago as I was running the 0.3 mile long stretch a delivery truck driver laid on his horn as he bore down on me without slowing or getting over.  I had nowhere to go.  I was on the edge of the pavement at the top of a steep dropoff and he was not going to get over into the oncoming lane even through there were no oncoming vehicles.  I had to dance on the edge of a blade, duck, weave to keep from being hit or tumbling down an embankment.
I was mad.  Keyed up.  I would have torn him apart if I could have gotten ahold of that driver at that moment.  What he did was aggressive.  Antagonistic.  He was saying “I don’t like your wussy running lifestyle so I’m going to intimidate you.”
That disturbs me. 
So you’ll have to forgive me for hating our addiction to cars and this autocentric culture we’ve allowed to evolve.  My attitudes are not going to easily change.  People use their cars to bully and intimidate others.  People do things in their cars they would never have the cahones to do face to face with another human being.
It’s this environment that makes me seriously reconsider being a long distance runner.  It’s not enjoyable for me.  I would very much like to go out and run for an hour or two every once in a while.  I’d like to be able to regularly go beyond the comfy four mile loop in front of my house.  It would be nice to have options beyond running on Furnace Mountain to get in some miles.  That’s a tough stretch of road to drive much less bike or run.  While I love riding it, I just don’t have the pluck to tackle it (yet) on foot.
My fellow humans make the local running environment toxic to my health.  Humanity is the barrier to entry.  We could say it’s a lack of infrastructure, but the stark truth is that it’s our own friends and neighbors who make using the roads around us difficult and dangerous.  If I had the road to myself its more than enough infrastructure for my needs.  Throw in a few inattentive drivers and a sociopath or two and they become killing fields.
When you’re already running and your “fight or flight” reflexes kick in the fight comes out.  And I am not a timid user of the roads.  I have ridden my bike in heavy city traffic many times.  I've struggled to carve out a space for myself on the roads.  I've been hit twice.  I was almost run over by a RTD bus once.  And I kept going back.  I steeled myself against the fear and doubt.
I don't know...maybe I've grown soft.  Or maybe I know a dangerous situation when I see one.  While its an inconvenience for me while planning my recreational runs these issues are real and inhibitive for disadvantaged populations.  They are real for people like Sunny Yang who have experienced the worst our transportation system has to offer.
Things need to change.