Gini Dietrich

Outdoor Exercise: The Rules of the Road

By: Gini Dietrich | July 19, 2010 | 

On Friday, Angelica Colantuoni and I were riding our bikes along the Lakefront (Chicago, for those of you who have never been). Just as we rounded the corner at North Avenue Beach, we saw a jogger go flying across the path, as a cyclist ran right into her.

The jogger crossed the path, from east to west, without looking to see if anyone was coming from the north or the south (which is the direction the path runs so you’d think she’d look both ways before crossing). And she got hit. And she flew through the air. And Angelica and I both had to ride into the grass to keep from running over her. Fortunately, she was not hurt and she realized her mistake, and the cyclist was not hurt, but it could have turned out disastrous.

As we continued our ride, I thought about how to educate cyclists, runners, and walkers about the rules of the road and, while this blog isn’t typically about exercise or rules, I figure it’s a good place to begin the conversation.

As cyclists, we always joke about the runners who check their watches, see they’ve run 30 minutes (or whatever their turnaround point is) and they turn around (which means crossing the path to the other lane) without looking to see if anyone is coming. I’ve become pretty accustomed to leaving a really wide berth when passing runners, just in case that happens. And it happens…a lot. It happens at least once a ride and that’s too often. In fact, it happened to me this morning. A jogger was running north on the east side of the path. She saw a water fountain on the west side and crossed…right as I was going to pass her. She never even looked.

No matter what your form of exercise, be aware of your surroundings, follow the same rules you would if you were driving (signal, check over your shoulders for someone in your blind spot, don’t turn left from the right lane, stop at lights and signs, etc.), and be considerate.

This is not a place for road rage or one form of exercising being right while the others are wrong. Also be aware that if you are walking or running and you don’t look for cyclists, some of us ride more than 20 mph. It will hurt BADLY if you get hit and it could kill the cyclist.  Communicate your intent (on your left or, in velodrome speak, STICK!). Be considerate, careful, and safe.

What tips do you have for those of us exercising outside?

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • So true! It always amazes me how many people are ignorant of the rules. I really believe that wearing headphones is a bad idea while exercising because it makes it even easier to tune out your surroundings. I was riding this weekend at a popular spot and was so irked when I got passed by other cyclists not calling out “on your left” or something to me. Communicating your intent doesn’t take much effort and one of my biggest pet peeves when people don’t do it.

    • I could not agree more! It’s not that hard. But, unfortunately, most people do not do it. One blog post at a time. 🙂

    • OK. So the headphones thing is telling me I should not buy a horn or bell for my bike. Or, maybe a really loud horn? Bicycle riders, like me, always have to anticipate – car doors flinging open, unleashed dogs (for the backroads I have a small bottle of vinegar), and joggers. But if bicylists always act nicely and with respect, I think it will spread to joggers, bladers and others.

  • Since we are talking about pet peeves or lack of awareness, I need to mention roller bladers. If runners are unpredictable roller bladers are twice as unpredictible and move a lot faster. I give them a VERY wide berth as I pass.

    For all users of the path there is the issue of headphones. I personally don’t use headphones when I ride, I need to use all my senses to keep me safe when I ride. But others choose to listen to music. This creates a real problem when I try to shout “on your left” and they can’t hear me.

    Dogs are also a hazard. I love my dog, and enjoy taking her for a walk. However, if we need to be aware of where we are and what the traffic’s doing, we need to be doubly aware of our dog (and their leash). If you dog isn’t on a leash (even if it’s a harmless little yippie dog) you can’t keep it out from under my wheels (and yes dogs have run in front of me and I have crashed because of it).

    Which brings me to the hat trick, a roller blader with headphones and a dog. There is no earthly way to predict where the blader, dog and leash are going to be. There is no way to communicate with them your intent to pass, and they will often make radical, unpredictable moves. They scare me every time.

    OK, I’m off my soapbox, and I’m sure bladers and runners have things to say about the bikers, but that’s my two cents.

    • I actually ride with my headphones on, but I keep the music really low so I can still hear what’s going on around me. I want to be able to hear “on your left” if someone passes me so I can downshift and see if I can keep up!

      The scary thing about bladers is that bladers cross the yellow line. So when you try to go around them, and you’re in the opposite lane of traffic, it’s a pretty scary proposition. And you’re right about dogs – some people don’t pay any attention to where their dogs are going on the long leash. I’d feel terrible if I hit one.

      Don’t get me started on tourists and kids.

      • You ride with your headphones on? Tsk tsk Gini! 😉

    • I have to defend the headphone comment – though I TOTALLY agree with roller bladers and dogs….I wear headphones when I’m riding along but I ALWAYS am listening to podcasts with talking and not music blasting. I make sure that my volume is low enough that I can still hear people that may come up behind me, as well as cars and other sounds (sirens) I need to hear. When you’re riding for 2-3 hours at a time its nice to have something to listen too, as long as you’re staying alert and watching the road! I hate when people judge me just cause I have headphones on even though I can hear them say “take off the phones” which I’ve HEARD many times : )

  • I have walked on that path you are talking about. There are a TON of bike people. It is pretty simple. Joggers stay to the outside and bike people ride in the middle.

    Here is the part I do not understand. There are a TON of people who ride their bikes there. Like you said Gini, some over 20 MPH. It is SUPER dangerous. I do not understand how someone could not look while crossing. It is like you are crossing a highway, the bike peeps ride so fast.

    • I don’t get it, either. Just like you wouldn’t cross the street without looking both ways, don’t cross the path, either!

  • I know it sounds crazy, but don’t play your music so loud that you can’t hear what’s going on around you. Never mind the damage to your ears (you deserve that) but the inherent danger of not being completely aware of your surroundings is great.

    Funny, I can’t imagine walking across a street without looking both ways, nor can I imagine walking across a track without doing the same thing.

    Great post, Gini – hope that it makes people more aware.

  • Ben Hillage

    I have thought about bringing music/headphones while riding, but it’s best to leave them home. One needs to be aware of all surroundings. Also, as with driving, ALWAYS expect the unexpected! Stay safe everyone! And have fun.

    • Ben commented on the blog! YAY!

      • Ben Hillage

        Two thumbs up!!

  • The best tip – which I think applies to everyone – is something Brad alluded to above: Be predictable. Understand that everyone else on the path expects you to keep doing what you’re doing right now (e.g. running in a straight line, cycling at a constant speed), and once you decide to do anything that runs counter to that expectation, the onus is on you to manage that risk appropriately.

    That said, “on your left” is always appreciated!

    • Liz:

      That’s a great way to summarize it. “Be Predictable” other people are making guesses about what you are doing and where you are going to be. They are trying to avoid hitting you. If you are going to be somewhere other than straight ahead, give a signal of some kind.

      • Now I wish I’d written BE PREDICTABLE in the blog post!

  • I notice when I’m running, I don’t like cars; when I’m driving, I try to leave way for runners and bikes. But I feel that gap, that difference b/n me and them. In other words, you identify w/ the people traveling the way that you are. Best thing is more diversity, so we all get used to sharing the roads, walks, and paths.

    Saw great vid last week on cycle paths in Stockholm. more than half commuters use bikes b/c the city makes it easier for them. What a great way to plan a city!

    Excellent post, Gini!

    • Cindy, I agree every city should be like Stockholm! 🙂 You’re very right about leaving way for runners and cyclists when you’re driving. I’m always yelling at Mr. D to watch for the cyclist coming up the side of the road. Unfortunately, not all of them obey the traffic laws and it’s pretty dangerous. Chicago has a lot of white bikes around the city streets, which signify a cyclist who has been killed. It’s sad.

      P.S. I lived in Kansas City for seven years. Remember those old houses on Ward Parkway, at the Plaza, that were there about 10 years ago before they built the multi-million dollar homes? That’s where I lived!

  • Great tips Gini. As both a runner and a cyclist, I see issues with both sides. No one wants to be in a collision, so we all need to be observant and look out for each other. I don’t think that headphones are a good idea as they can cut down on your ability to observe what is going on around you. We need to be caring for each other while we are out there. It will go a long way toward making it a healthier and happier experience.

    • When I was a runner, I used to get so angry at the cyclists who would go zooming by without a care for the runners. Now that I’m a cyclist, I get irritated at the runners who don’t pay attention to where they’re going. I think, like you, knowing both sports, it makes us more observant and considerate. By no means are cyclists not at fault. Some of them are real @ssholes.

  • Mike Koehler

    I thought the rules of the road were pretty simple when I starting running almost 10 years ago, but boy was I wrong. I pay extra attention to who is around me as I am very clumsy and tend to beef it at least once a week. I usually map out what route I’m taking so I know where I need to cross and what the area is like. People in Southern IL follow the same direction you gave me years ago, stop signs with a white border are optional, especially at 4 Ways and I have the right away. Since I run at some godforesaken early time, I’m lucky I do not have to contend with the street traffic much. Just the old rummies heading to the bar at 5AM and semis trying to beat the morning rush. When I have to run in Forest Park (biker heaven in StL), I take off the headphones so I can hear them coming and get out of their way.

    • STOP TELLING PEOPLE I TAUGHT YOU HOW TO DRIVE! LMAO!!!!! It’s true, though, right?

      • Mike K

        Yes, it’s true. Little did you know you were just preparing me to live in the St Louis area where stopping really is optional.

  • Pedestrians have the right of way, on the road, off the road, wherever. If you’re going to be on a path with walkers / runners, you need to go slowly. If you (general “you”) want to get all Lance Armstrong, you belong on a road, with the other vehicles traveling 25+ mph. There’s room for everyone, but the ones going the fastest (and usually coming up directly behind people) should not expect that everyone else know where they are at every moment.

    • Brandon, while I generally agree, the path on the Lakefront in Chicago is for bikes, not pedestrians. And that’s what I’m speaking about, in this instance. But then there is the issue of being on the road and cars not respecting cyclists, but that’s another blog for another day.

      • IMHO, something’s original intent becomes irrelevant when its continued, actual usage supersedes that intent. The path originally being put into place for cyclists does not remove the responsibility of those cyclists to operate safely.

        I will certainly agree that there are stupid runners. However a stupid runner + cyclist at 5-10mph is a completely different ballgame than a stupid runner + a cyclist at 20-25mph. Ideally we’d remove the stupid runner from the equation. In the real world that’s not going to happen, so I think the majority of the responsibility needs to be on the cyclists to control how fast their going when around pedestrians.

        That being said, I should point out that I run on a treadmill anyway… 🙂

        • I have now decided you must get out on the road and run! 🙂

  • Tips for exercising outside? You mean besides “Go back inside”? JUST KIDDING! (sort of) LOL

    Actually, I can’t even fathom why people do the things you described… and worse! Anytime I am walking or doing anything outside, I try to be acutely aware of my surroundings… not get in the way and not get myself or anyone else hurt!

    so I can’t decide if the people that just walk/run/ride/whatever all ‘willy nilly’ are just arrogant, clueless, rude, or what… I can understand not paying particular attention if you are running around a track and nobody else is on the track, but other than that… WAKE UP!


    • Sort of kidding, Shelly?! LOL!! You live in the perfect spot for outdoor exercise…year round. But I guess it’s kind of hot for it now so I’ll give you a pass.

  • Several of my pet peeves!(and I am in a mood!)

    1. When riding along the lake in Chicago, (tourists especially) walk 4-5 people wide looking around in complete la la land to the reality that there are people riding on the same path!
    2. When riding trails in the South Suburbs, walkers, walkers with dogs, walkers chatting it up with the ladies during their early morning stroll, parents with kids on bikes, take up the entire trail or are riding-walking directly toward you. You end up swerving off the trail to avoid a collision.
    I ended up with an AC separation several years ago because of this!
    PEOPLE! PLEASE be respectful and share the path! Deep sigh!
    Happy Monday Everyone! (this is my response AFTER an intense spin/weight training class this am)Is it too early for a cocktail?!

    • I wish I’d seen this at 10 a.m. and I would have come and had a cocktail with you! This reminds me of the tourists who stop in the middle of Michigan Avenue to look at the tall buildings. I want to yell, “THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO WORK HERE! MOVE!” But I don’t. I just mumble it to myself and shoot them dirty looks.

  • After riding a handful of times now on the lakefront path, I think the best thing is to have awareness…awareness of yourself, awareness of your surroundings and awareness of the consequences of your actions. Nothing is predictable but you can be nimble and flexible if you are aware of your surroundings. Same with life in general, most people who lack this kind of awareness tend to be the most disrespectul in these situations.

    As a runner & a cyclist, the path shouldn’t be for one or the other. Just because runners can’t look before they change lanes, doesn’t mean cyclists should stick to the road. If they don’t look before they cross the street, they get hit by a car. Same thing.

    • And…if you have to choose between going into the road or running into a cyclist, please choose the road. It hurts when you run into me! 🙂

  • Okay…The has sparked many a pet peeve of mine when it comes to both cycling and transportation interaction in general.

    1) I couldn’t agree more that you need to be aware of your surroundings, always know whats around you, and be able to communicate/interact (sometimes with happy little hand gestures) when needed.

    2) The idea of being predictable is HUGE! There are rules to everything, I am a big fan of bending most, but when it comes to cycling/road safety we are talking about life and limb, thus pay attention and be aware.

    3) I am convinced that people use cycling, running, driving time as time to “be in there head”. While I support taking the time to check in with yourself, dedicate enough ficus to react when needed, and look both ways before making a move that could harm you and others.

    Now for my confession of the day…I ride a moped and LOVE it! If you think it is hard on a bike, see what kind of road respect you get as a 6’2″ man riding a moped. I swear cars, cyclists and society in general goes out of there way to make my day difficult 😉

  • Good topic. I’ve been out there as cyclist and runner and it can get…complicated. I witnessed a rider/jogger collision one time and it wasn’t pretty. I also had to separate a runner from a cyclist as they were jawing pretty good after a near accident. We have the same issue on the beach path in Huntington Beach. Cyclists, runners, walkers, roller bladers, skateboarders, surfers, beach goers just crossing the path to get to the beach, and dog walkers all sharing the path. Jack Bauer never dealt with these kinds of intense negotiations.

  • Excellent topic! I have a plea for something you’re not necessarily going to see on Lakeshore Drive.

    I ride horses. One of the horses I ride associates bicycles with pain. See, a cyclist didn’t obey the posted trail yield rules and forced this horse and his rider into cactus. Decades later, this guy will spin like a top to avoid a cyclist. But, if the rider takes the time to slow down or stop, wave and say hello, he holds it together.

    Yes, your workout is important, but be mindful and kind. Say HELLO and wave.

    What are the yield rules? Walkers/Joggers yield to cyclists; everyone yields to the horse. A rider can control so much, but if the horse turns to kick, there’s not much we can do to control that.

    • CLARIFICATION: But, if the rider, i.e. cyclist, takes the time to slow down or stop, wave and say hello, he holds it together.

  • Gini, I’m glad you’re one of the cyclists who watches out for runners. in California and here (New York,) they don’t seem to give a shit. I’ve almost been picked off more times than I can count, when I’ve been in the “designated” area even! But stupid people are a danger to cyclists and runners alike. People who stop in the middle of a path on their cellphone, people walking four wide, or my favorite, people walking their dog on a leash, who let the dog wander to the other side of the path, and you CAN’T SEE the leash blocking your path until you’re right on top of it! Don’t get me started on tourists. Central Park is virtually unusable for me until the weather gets colder.

  • Great post, Gini. My top complaint about trying to get a workout in while on the Lakefront: Is it really necessary to walk FIVE PEOPLE WIDE when crossing the bridge leading from Wacker to Navy Pier?? I’d also like to write an open letter to all rickshaw renters and rentees even THINKING about taking a ride along our beautiful lakefront. Please. Don’t. Do. It. 😛

    • Can you tell Katie and I are related?!;-)

      • I didn’t know before, but this is funny! I am in complete agreement!

  • I was thinking the exact same thing today when a woman who was about to go on a run walked on to the path without look at all – EITHER WAY. I watched her from far away so I was aware this could be an issue but as I got closer at a pretty good speed I yelled “on your left” and she looked SHOCKED that anyone would ever be on the path with her and stopped in the middle of path. I gave her plenty of time to move and yet I still had to swerve back and forth to get around her.

    We’re taught at such a young age to look both ways when crossing the street but for some reason that doesn’t occur to some people when they walk onto a bike path.

    Wouldn’t be a day of riding without those people.

  • Here are a few more:

    1) Cyclists who text while riding WTF!!?!!?! Just ride your bike and don’t try to kill me thanks.

    2) People who walk dogs on multiuse paths and let them cross over the path so their leash acts like one of those ropes from a Tom and Jerry cartoon.

    3) Families who think it’s okay to take their mother, father, and 16 long lost cousins to the bike path and proceed to all walk in one line across like it’s some We are the World walk for humanity. Get out of the way.

    4) Small children who families put on bikes on multiuse and let them do whatever they want. A multi-use path is NOT a good place to teach your child how to ride a bike. Your driveway is however. Start there. It’s akin to taking your 16 year old to the freeway to learn how to drive right away. There’s just going to be problems.

  • What she said.

    I run. I ride. I respect those around me. I give verbal indicators of my intentions and because I’m southern – I say “Hey” to everyone I pass. 🙂

    Great post, Gini.

  • It really annoys me how you can announce, “Passing on the left” and people will turn around, look at you, and STILL not move over. These are usually people walking four or five across — or who are rolling two strollers side-by-side–and think they own the bike path. Um…there’s a yellow line down the center of the path for a reason.

    Having said that, it also annoys me how many cyclists fail to announce that they will be passing on the left, or who will try to “beat” oncoming bikes when they are passing pedestrians or slower moving cyclists. I, too, cycle at between 21 and 25 MPH, but I will ALWAYS slow down and wait for oncoming cyclists rather than be rude to pedestrians or risk an accident.

  • Oh…and the other thing: If you are a pedestrian and walking with an iPod and can’t hear cyclists announce that they are passing, then have the self-preservation instinct to at least stay far to the right of the pathway.

  • Here to defend my fellow runners! 🙂 Unfortunately, like Ann said (hey Ann–glad you and Gini are connecting),it’s all about knowing the rules. Slower runs to the right. Don’t walk or run more than two deep. Keep your dog on a short lead and for God’s sake get off the cell phone so you don’t trip walkers, runners and bikers. And drivers, observe crosswalks and SLOW DOWN!

    It’s dangerous out there, and I think most of it is just lack of attention.

    I will say I am very anti-headphones. My friend Sarah was hit by a car at a busy intersection at sunrise while running with headphones last fall. She was in a coma for two weeks. And carry ID–she was IDd by her iPod serial number. Very, very scary, though miraculously, she is making a great recovery.

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