Some of the content in this post was originally published in April 2020, Lockdown exercise etiquette. Back then I was a learner runner, but already I’d noticed some strange behaviour when sharing roads and footpaths with other people. Since then I’ve had innumerable negative encounters as well as many positive ones.
The UK highway code was recently updated to give greater right of way to pedestrians and cyclists.
The most common impolite ways I’ve been treated as a runner have been:
- People deliberately driving through puddles in the gutter next to the pavement where I’m running, so that I’ve been massively splashed with filter water. One of my favourite running tops has nasty grey speckles all over it from being sprayed with (presumably) oily water. I’m pretty sure this is actually an offence.
- Drivers passing very close. Yes I run on country lanes, yes they’re narrow in places. But I jump in the verge where I can if I need to and when the lane is wide enough for two cars, there is no need for a van’s wing mirror to pass within a foot of my head.
- Drivers turning down junctions without looking to see if they’re clear first. I only avoided getting driven into one day by some one approaching the junction from behind coming to a quick halt so that the car coming towards us could go round me without crashing into them. Not sure if that makes sense but it was scary and the lady who stopped was shaken up too and checked I was OK.
- Other pedestrians not watching where they’re going or being totally oblivious to the prospect of someone coming from behind them. So often I call out “excuse me” a few metres away and they stop, turn round and look at me like I’ve got three heads, only thinking to step aside when I’m slowing down so I don’t run into them. Mostly this is school kids with headphones in, so they often down even hear me shout.
- Large groups of pedestrians coming towards me on my own and not splitting up to go single file, or just not four abreast, so I can get past. This often leaves me having to step onto a busy road to go around.
So here are some suggestions for etiquette we should use when sharing our outdoor spaces with others.
1. Follow the highway code
The Highway Code recommendations for pedestrians say:
If there is no pavement, keep to the right-hand side of the road so that you can see oncoming traffic. You should take extra care and be prepared to walk in single file, especially on narrow roads or in poor light and keep close to the side of the road. It may be safer to cross the road well before a sharp right-hand bend so that oncoming traffic has a better chance of seeing you. Cross back after the bend.
See that, walk on the right. That means you’re facing oncoming traffic on your side of the road so you can see them and they can see you. The traffic coming from behind you is on the left, further away from you, so less likely to pass very close or hit you if they don’t see you and you don’t see them. This is especially important when you have head phones in. If you walk on the left, the cars on the same side of the road are coming from behind you – you can’t see them.
If you’re in a country where vehicles go on the right, switch this around and walk on the left. It’s not rocket science.
When lots of people are out walking in the same direction and some are on the left and some on the right, running in the same direction is rather tricky, it turns into a slalom. If people are walking in both directions and on a mixture of sides, well it’s just chaos. Imagine negotiating that as a driver.
When I see people walking or running on the left, I assume they usually drive and they’re just maintaining the same location they’re used to. But it’s just not as safe.
2. Give way to those less mobile
If you’re walking on a path and there are people coming the other way or walking more slowly in the same direction who are less mobile than you – young children, older people, those with additional needs – don’t wait to see if they’re going to move. You take care and go out of your way to give them space. It might mean walking in longer grass or on rougher ground, but that’s easier for most of us than those others.
3. Don’t make someone going up hill stop
If you encounter a runner or cyclist going up hill, be kind to their legs and let them keep moving. Maybe they’ll need to slow down but don’t make them stop because we all know how hard it is to get going again running or biking up hill.
4. If in doubt, stop and step back
If the other person isn’t giving way, no matter who you think ought to be making space, you have to make it. Who cares about forcing someone else to do the right thing, standing your ground isn’t worth the risk.
Similarly, if you’re in a big group, split up a bit to make yourselves narrower across the path and let other people get past easily.
5. Try not to splash people
If you’re a driver, try and give pedestrians a wide berth, especially in wet weather. They don’t want to be splashed, it’s not nice. I know someone who’s 1 year old son was soaked in is buggy by someone splashing through a puddle. Instead, slow down and go wide, you might have to wait for traffic coming the other way but is the 10 seconds you lose really more valuable than someone else’s well being?
6. Think about your dog lead
If you’re walking your dog on a long lead, try to keep them close and on the same side of the path. As someone comes the other way try to get closer to your dog and cross to keep the lead from running right across the path.
Sounds simple common sense right? Well, if a runner or cyclist doesn’t see the lead they’re going to go flying if they head straight into the lead and end up on the floor.
(I won’t write a rant here about how dogs ought to be trained to walk to heel. Both my parents’ dogs walked right by our leg, the lead flopping between us, not taut and pulled on. That’s how a safe, dependable, obedient dog behaves – not running off, jumping up strangers, or tripping people up.)
7. Keep it friendly
Always, always exchange a hello, a smile, and a thank you. Who knows, the person you’re passing might live alone and be out of work – that might be their one and only social interaction of the day. So above all, be friendly, kind and thoughtful. It doesn’t cost anything.