A friend of mine was commenting on Facebook the other day on the number of jerk drivers who hog city streets when she runs or bikes on a particular side of town.
Feedback to her post was pretty evenly split between the “Yeah, jerks!” crowd and the “Get your skinny ass and graphite bikes on the sidewalk!” crowd. Guess who was who?
The comments debate was much more heated than what I thought it would be when I posted, “Yeah, I love when the asshats almost run you over.” Turns out, some people don’t like being called asshats on the Internet. Or they think I’m the asshat (and sometimes I am).
Also, I’m kind of hypocrite, because I don’t really ride and sometimes get annoyed at cyclist sharing the road. Still, I’m not going to honk at bicyclists, scare the shit out of them, or not pay extra attention where I know cyclist like to ride. Matter of fact, a lot of the feud between runners/cyclists/drivers would be alleviated with better traffic planning, bike lanes, and just a little respect for one another.
As a runner, I do use sidewalks as much as possible, but sometimes on long runs hitting the street is unavoidable (and many times road running is so much more enjoyable when you look at the condition of some city sidewalks).
Of course, tell that to the blowhard who thinks his four wheels own the road, and runners and bikers watch out. If the Facebook devolution in conversation was representative of anything for some, it’s that the physics of size trumps rules of law and civility.
Serendipitously, I found out a short time after the FB debacle that the non-runner, car driver’s mindset of entitlement is old. It was crafted 90 years ago when the car industry was in its relative infancy. And a part of that was the result of what happened in 1923 in my fair city of Cincinnati.
Besides being a runner, I am a voracious podcast listener. There is this show called 99 Percent Invisible that airs through PRX and shared through iTunes music store. Host Roman Mars (yeah that is the guys name, cool huh?) usually frames some interesting stories about design and architecture and how our modern lives are shaped by both, though we may take them for granted. The most recent episode I listened to had to do with, you got it, pedestrians owning the roads in cities in the early 20th century and how that changed starting in 1923 in Cincinnati.
I won’t bore you by broadcasting the story in my own words. I’ll just say Cincinnati tried to do something to limit vehicles on city streets, the car industry reacted with a marketing campaign, the word jaywalking was introduced into our language, and as a result streets became far less friendly to pedestrians (and runners and bicyclists) after about 1928.
The history and the reason for drivers’ mentalities, along with the fact that rules of the road could have been very different was intriguing. (As a matter of fact, it sort of reminded me of my college alma mater, Western Kentucky University, where school administrators consciously took out road and limited most parking lots to edges of campus to keep students safe and school grounds guest-friendly since, well, most college students walk to class.)
Anyway, I’m a nerd and after hearing the podcast, the runner’s lament was given more depth. This isn’t to mention that it also sparked an idea for a longer piece on Cincinnati’s weird beef with transportation in general. Did you know there is a half-finished subway under Cincy streets? Or the current debate about a streetcar project? Or that Cincinnati is the only city to own its rail yard in America? Or that the regions “Cincinnati” international airport is located in Kentucky? Yeah, we have a complicated relation to those things four wheels, and not.
But that’s not to say things aren’t changing. Runners can get in a good 20 miles (at least) of uninterrupted running path and sidewalk near the river and around Lunken airport to the east of downtown. The residential streets in the east side of the city also seem to be more biker/runner friendly, since that is where most of those type of hobbyist tend to live anyway. And as fuel prices continue to rise, and if the recent trend of younger people moving back into cities continue, who knows what is ahead for urban planning?
Maybe we’ll all learn to share a little more and we will be able to retire the runner’s lament.