Q: Why are runners allowed to run on streets in Winston-Salem in residential areas where sidewalks are available? I often see runners on the street, sometimes alone and sometimes running abreast, and sometimes at dusk when it’s hard to see them. I don’t think people understand the risks involved.
Answer: All runners should use sidewalks when available, according to the Winston-Salem Police Department’s Traffic Enforcement Unit. Some do not, and they increase their chances of getting seriously injured if struck by a vehicle.
According to city ordinance, where sidewalks are provided, it shall be unlawful for any pedestrian to walk along and upon an adjacent roadway. Where sidewalks are not provided, any pedestrian walking along and upon a highway shall, when practicable, walk only on the extreme left of the roadway or its shoulder facing traffic which may approach from the opposite direction. Such pedestrian shall yield the right-of-way to approaching traffic.
“Though the law is straightforward, the application of the law is complicated, leading many runners and pedestrians to choose the road as they perceive it to be safer and more convenient, “ said Keith Davis, the co-owner of Fleet Feet Sports in Winston-Salem. He works with runners about safety and other issues.
“Runners frequently choose to run in neighborhood settings because traffic counts and speed are presumed to be lower. Sidewalks in many neighborhoods, however, are inconsistent. Sidewalks often continue for several blocks only to change sides of the road or disappear altogether.”
Sidewalks are also sometimes in disrepair with tripping hazards such as roots, cracks, driveways and household obstacles such as trash cans, mail boxes, and parked cars.
“During the fall, large sections of sidewalks are covered by leaves and yard debris, making them completely impassable,” Davis said.
In low light conditions, sidewalks are sometimes poorly lit, he said, since street lights tend to light the road and not the sidewalk.
“These common conditions considered, runners perceive their risks to be greater on the sidewalk than on the road,” he said.
“I myself have tripped and rolled my ankle multiple times on sidewalks but never in 20 years of running been hit by a car in the road.
“Pedestrians are far too often hit by cars, and it is tragic and senseless,” Davis said. “Statistically speaking, however, a surprisingly small percentage of pedestrian/car accidents involve people running. Runners are generally cautious and defensive when choosing to run in the road, and they do tend to select more lightly traveled roads for their runs.
“At Fleet Feet Sports, we require all training program and group run participants to follow the law as it pertains to sidewalks as well as to wear multiple points of reflectivity and flashing lights. Runners, pedestrians, cyclists and motorists all have a responsibility to ‘share the road’ and consider that they are going to encounter each other. If everyone is respectful and accommodating, there is plenty of room for all of us to utilize the sidewalks and roads safely and effectively.”