Running against the flow?
June 7, 2008 1:25 PM   Subscribe

Why do some runners run in the road ... against traffic?

I've noticed in the past, and today in particular, that a majority of the runners I pass are running in the road, against traffic. Not all, but most. The presence or absence of a sidewalk or trail alongside doesn't seem to make a difference.

I bicycle alot, and one reason I notice this is that inevitably they are running in the bike lane, against traffic. This morning's ride in San Francisco went through the Sunset, the Richmond, the Presidio; both on the urban streets and the more "rural" roads in the Presidio ... many runners going the "wrong" way, out in the traffic lane.

On a bike as a kid you learn early to "go with the flow" ... is there opposing advice for runners?
posted by gyusan to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (26 answers total)
I think it's better to walk/run against traffic, so you can see and avoid oncoming cars or bikes. As for why some people run in the road instead of on the sidewalk, I have no idea.
posted by pravit at 1:33 PM on June 7, 2008

They run on asphalt because it's softer and against traffic to see what's coming, in case they need to jump out of the way.
posted by stavrogin at 1:34 PM on June 7, 2008

It's so you can see the traffic coming towards you. If you run with the traffic, if the car doesn't see you, you're screwed. If you run into it, if they don't see you, you can get out the way.
posted by djgh at 1:34 PM on June 7, 2008

Best answer: Sidewalks are generally made of concrete which is harder than the asphalt of the road. The increased hardness isn't relevant to someone walking on the sidewalk but it is relevant to someone who runs 20+ miles a week, for years, on it.

People run on the street to avoid the injuries associated with running on hard surfaces.
posted by 517 at 1:34 PM on June 7, 2008

I always presumed that it was so they could see the traffic more likely to run them down as they approached, thus giving them a chance to go get out of the way and avoid impending automotive death...
posted by Mrevilbreakfast at 1:37 PM on June 7, 2008

I was taught as a kid and thought it was the law in California, that when pedestrians walked on streets they had to walk against traffic. I was also taught that if your bike broke down and you had to walk with it, that you needed to cross over to the other side of the road to walk with it so you can see the oncoming cars.
posted by birdherder at 1:45 PM on June 7, 2008

Because of the inherent characteristics of these activities, I think that for each case, running or bicycling, different strategies are safer.

If you walk or run against traffic, generally, you can see what is going on in front of you. It is more likely that traffic that *can* hit you would be on your side of the road - so why not face it. I think it is less likely that you'll be hit from behind or somehow blindsided and so facing traffic allows you to better avoid it.

I believe the problem with a bicyclist doing the same ... is that, if the bicycle were to, say, hit a pot hole and suddenly veer into the street - it would be harder for oncoming traffic to avoid the bicyclist. A bicyle moves faster and has more forward momentum than a runner .. making riding 'against' traffic more dangerous than riding with traffic. In fact, against traffic, if the bicyclist fell, the bike might actually fall into an oncoming car whereas, riding with traffic, the fallen bicyclist (still in danger) might be slightly more avoidable.

As a side note, I guess a bicylist riding with traffic is supposed to obey traffic signals, etc. A runner running against traffic would obviously not have to do so. I guess a bicycle is just more like a moving vehicle and treated as such - whereas a runner is just a totally different situation.
posted by daemond_matrix at 1:47 PM on June 7, 2008

You walk against traffic in the street so you can see them and avoid them if need be, you bike with traffic because you are a vehicle.
posted by InsanePenguin at 1:51 PM on June 7, 2008

Mod note: a few comments removed - leave your lulz out of this thread please, thank you
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:54 PM on June 7, 2008

Seeing traffic and saving your poor, poor knees from the evil of concrete are both important, and there's one other reason to run in the road: it's often in better shape than the sidewalk and you don't have to go up and down curbs. When you really get into a zone, it's pretty distracting (and, over the course of 20 miles, energy consuming) to have to come out of your stride to dodge a cracked chunk of sidewalk or hop up and down curbs at each intersection.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 1:55 PM on June 7, 2008

I've read it's dangerous for cyclist to go against the flow of vehicle traffic. Something about motorists not watching for someone coming toward them and being less able to judge speed and distance of an oncoming object rather than one they are overtaking.

I assumed the same rule would apply for runners, but who knows?

As a runner I'd be concerned about people turning into me from side streets - as drivers sometimes don't do the left-right-left check before turning.
posted by wfrgms at 1:55 PM on June 7, 2008

The rule I've always known is to bike with traffic, but run against it. For the reasons stated above: wfrgms has the cycling answer, and pravit (etc) has the running answer. If you google for this, you'll find safety guides that recommend running against traffic.
posted by iguanapolitico at 2:00 PM on June 7, 2008

The roads are all the same, while sidewalks change from sidewalk to driveway to sidewalk every 50 feet. You have to constantly watch out that there isn't level change to catch your toe, every time; it happens a lot in the Northeast due to the freezes and thaws, and it's a pain.
posted by smackfu at 2:09 PM on June 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

I prefer sidewalks but despite this almost always end up running on the street because:
1. The sidewalk dips with every driveway, then rises again afterwards, whereas the road is flat - much better for running.
2. I'm sometimes in the kind of suburban USA where the sidewalks are a useless afterthought on the assumption that no-one will actually ever use them, and so they typically only run for a few dozen metres before ending and starting on the other side of the road. Having to zig-zag across the road just to stay on sidewalk makes it just easier to run on the road.
3. I don't have to continually be ducking eye-level branches from trees on the verge or berm, and veering to avoid outgrowing bushes along the edge of people's yard.
4. Dogs in people's yards - it puts a little more distance between me and the territory of which they are sworn to wake up the entire neighbourhood if anyone so much as tries to use the sidewalk nearby, and gives me a bit more of a head start against those that try to give chase.

The order of importance depends on the nature of the neighbourhood I'm running in.
posted by -harlequin- at 2:10 PM on June 7, 2008

Best answer: Walking (or running) on the left, facing traffic, if not the written law in most places, is at least officially suggested. For safety.
posted by steef at 2:19 PM on June 7, 2008

Best answer: Walking/running against traffic: It's much safer; in many jurisdictions, it's the law.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:22 PM on June 7, 2008

(Gah. Must Preview.)
posted by Sys Rq at 2:22 PM on June 7, 2008

I have a friend that jogs on the "wrong" side because the camber of the road hurts her hips if she runs with traffic, but not if she runs against it.
posted by blue_beetle at 3:16 PM on June 7, 2008

If you think about the speeds involved, it does make sense. In a collision, a bicycle moving 15-20mph against 35mph traffic is going to hit with a relative speed of up to 55mph. If the bicyclist in the same traffic is hit from behind, the relative speed is more like 15-20mph. Since energy is proportional to the square of the speed, the impact of 55mph is eleven times more energetic (read: deadly) than the impact of 20mph.

In the case of a pedestrian walking 3mph, or even running 7mph, it doesn't make nearly as much difference — the pedestrian is still getting hit at 30 to 40mph, probably deadly either way. Walking against traffic allows them to see what's coming, and get out of the way if needed.
posted by knave at 6:06 PM on June 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

blue_beetle: I think you mean crowning of the road. Cars are cambered, not roads.
posted by explosion at 6:59 PM on June 7, 2008

I run on the road because, in our car-centric culture, the road is always better maintained than the sidewalk.

Precisely because of the crowned surface, I try to run near the centre of the road if there is no traffic. If there are cars, I will alternate going with or against traffic. If I stay on the same side too long, I will have assymetric joint pain.
posted by randomstriker at 7:21 PM on June 7, 2008

Oops, 55mph vs 20mph is about 7.5x more energy, not 11.
posted by knave at 8:51 PM on June 7, 2008

explosion: Actually, roads have camber too.
posted by jon4009 at 9:50 PM on June 7, 2008

I usually run in the road against traffic, for a lot of the reasons listed above. (I walk against traffic for safety reasons, and I find the surface better for running).

But I didn't start running on the road until I was mugged running on the sidewalk. The street is usually better lit, and being a distance away from shadowy alleys or driveways gives me time to react to muggers/cars coming out of driveways/dogs/etc.

I may just be unlucky, but I have been hit by cars on occasion -whilst running on the sidewalk, going with-. Cars pull out fast/don't slow down for turns/don't look. If you can't see what's coming, leaves you at the mercy of the driver. On the other hand.. riding with traffic on a bike, I'm usually going faster than the pace of traffic - would be quite dangerous to be riding in the opposite direction.
posted by s01110011 at 3:34 AM on June 8, 2008

In the UK, the Highway Code's general guidance for pedestrians is to walk on the right side of the road, in order to see any oncoming traffic. They told us that in cubs too.
posted by biffa at 4:01 AM on June 9, 2008

Aside from the legal and practical reasons to run on the road facing traffic, I generally face traffic because of safety. I'm female and run alone, sometimes at night. The advice I've read and been given in numerous locations is that facing traffic is much safer, because people are not able to slow their cars down and 'cruise' alongside you, being creepy and threatening and, potentially, worse.
posted by Miko at 5:33 PM on July 23, 2008

« Older Cross-Country Cat Transportation   |   Music Musik Musique!!! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.