How to Stay Safe Exercising in the City

It’s hard to say whether I’m mostly a country girl or a city girl, not that it’s that important for this post. I live and run in the country now mostly though I still take my sister’s dog or sneak in a run in the city from time to time. In previous eras of my life I was a mostly city runner, downtown late night runner (oh grad student life) and urban dweller. I recently wrote a post about staying safe in the country too. A lot of those concerns and these apply to the suburbs as well since it’s kind of a mix.

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People tend to be worried about other people when they are running in the city and that can be a concern but there are other things to be aware of too.

 

Crosswalks and intersections

Our little city has a really big car pedestrian problem. Well over 1000 pedestrians have been hit IN CROSSWALKS in the last 5 years. As a resident of Halifax you have about a 1 in 1300 chance of getting hit by a car in a crosswalk every year. To put that in perspective we actually don’t do great on murder statistics in Halifax either, 9th highest in the country, you have a 1 in 55 000 chance of that happening to you each year. That’s 40 times lower! Actually for the first time since I can remember someone got hit in my little town today and the injuries are described as serious. You have to treat crosswalks and intersections as a battlefield each and every time you enter them, knowing you will loose. People do more than text when they drive, they watch video, facetime, drink coffee, eat burritos, think about everything else, yell at their kids in the third row and generally don’t pay attention to the road. That’s right, we wee you… the runners see you! Your going to loose in an intersection every single time so don’t get into that fight. Don’t assume that the overhead lights, walk signal or your legal right to be there at that time means anything at all. Until someone stops and/or makes eye contact assume they are not stopping.

I know that this makes people freakin’ angry and that these drivers should be stopping but they’re not in the 1000’s. I’ve done things I’m not proud of including but not limited to yelling swears, hitting hoods and giving the finger after really close calls. I also know that there is no excuse I’ve had to re-press the button for the lights on a non-intersection super visible crosswalk more than once since no one stopped on the first one. I’ve also had a driver look at me, I shrugged my shoulders implying ‘come on’ when it’s clear she wasn’t stopping, then she SPED UP and gave ME the finger! Some runs It seems you have an issue in every single intersection you see a car into the dozens. Daylight doesn’t make you safer even though it should and the accident today happened when the first car stopped for the pedestrian then a truck plowed into that stopped car and injured the kind, stopped driver and the walker seriously.

So what can you do to stay safe, mostly make sure you’re safe before you enter even if you have the legal right of way. Run facing traffic even if its not the law and turn to look at drivers approaching from behind you at intersections. People are programmed to notice human faces before the backs of their heads so you have a better chance of being noticed. Also ‘light up’ as if you were on a dark country road even though you run on bright streets with sidewalks at night. Even in the city I run with a LED dog collar across my chest, a blue flashing light on my back, a headlamp and ankle reflectors facing traffic no matter where I’m running. Like hunting season in the country this is too important and the stakes are too high not to.

Freaks

This is what we all worry about right or our families do right? Some freak is going to drag you into the bushes at the wrong time and do something terrible to you. Is this something you have to worry about? I would say a qualified no not really… But… It could happen. I joke that you shouldn’t trust a runner since we’re always the ones that find the bodies. Also sometimes the freakiest of freaks are somewhat harmless and a bit funny. When I first moved into my old neighbourhood there was a man on the loose exposing himself in the early mornings to female runners. My mom was super concerned about me at the time. Eventually he picked the wrong runner and she had a black belt. She beat him up, tied the guy up with her earphones and called the police. She’s also my hero.

You do get your share of weirdos out there though, people yelling religious stuff, names or nonsense at you. Sometimes they’re talking to no one in particular in your space. In this case I think it’s best to just develop temporary blindness and deafness until you pass. If you feel sketchy it’s best to trust your gut. Stay in well lit busy places and run or go into an open business and you’ll probably shake your tail.

Parks vs Streets

We like to run in parks and not so much on streets. But if someone does have the worst of intentions parks seem like a more dangerous place if they are not so well traveled. They tend to have more secluded places, are further from homes, are poorly lit if at all and far from a busy road. Three of these four things are why we like them but if someone is truly looking for a victim it’s perfect for that too. If you want to stay safe and run in the parks go during the daylight and the busier times the better. Even if it’s a more deserted park going on a sunny Saturday or Sunday means that anyone could come by and gives you more protection. Before and after work hours are also busier and lots of smaller or central city parks are pretty well traveled most of the time.

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Believe it or not this is a city park

 

The thing with streets is generally people live and work on them at all hours of the day, they have sweet lights and traffic, at least they could. That idea that someone could be just around the corner keeps you a bit safer. If you are looking to get out there after dark pick a more safe part of town in a residential area that is frequented by runners but not in the bar district. Or stick to busier streets where cars will be going by. One of the nice things about the city is just by changing up the streets in your route you can take different concerns into account.

Drunks

Back in the day I used to be a grad student and sometimes experiments could run over 16 hours or more. And that would be a lot of hurry up and wait so do something then wait 90 minutes then do something else. Plus as long as you got your work done your hours didn’t matter and… if I had relationship issues or some other source of struggle I would dive into my work often sleeping at the lab. So I often ran at like 11 or 12 which around the university meant there were lots of drunks around every night and Thursdays and the weekends they multiplied. I eventually cut out certain nights at certain times and certain streets just because it was super unpleasant. Lots of people would cat call you from porches, holler after you or stumble after you and it sucked. Generally though drunk people are pretty lazy, uncoordinated and yes loose lipped. Generally even though they can give you a scare and occasionally grab in your direction they are pretty harmless. But even on a Friday or Saturday night I could still get a run in by staying off the streets with a lot of student housing, opting instead for fancier residential streets heading away from the bar district. Also consider staying clear of the streets that are well worn paths to the bars… or maybe not. It very well might be the busiest street at that time of night if having people, even drunk people around seems important to you, you might consider this as part of your route too.

Unlikely allies

In the country there is no mistaking someone trying to help you. In the city sometimes help comes from the least obvious places and in a amore subtle way. Sometimes some one will just stand a little close to you, even follow you for a moment or help you in a less subtle more countrified way. Back when I used to smoke and go to plays with my mom I was desperate to hit the street once intermission came. Even though I gently tried to het rid of a group of guys by telling them I was engaged and happy the still persisted. I rough looking homeless dude care up to me and bummed a smoke and a light. And made some small talk elbowing his way into the conversation. I paid attention to him and they moved on.Turns out he didn’t even smoke. I could have handled the guys fine but none of the other hundred or so people that passed offered the same kindness to me. He even stubbed out his cigarette and offered to give it back. You might have someone just stick with you, run a comfortable distance behind you or a free bottle of water when you duck into a shop. People are mostly good and that includes people you’d never expect.
Once of my friends had a less subtle offer of help when she fell running in the cities downtown at rush hour. I’m lucky to have never fallen, (knocks on wood), but a friend of mine had a bad enough one that it led to us calling her scab nose for a couple of weeks. Aren’t we a kind bunch? She was fine but she scraped up her knees, hands and yes face pretty badly. She said traffic on the busy street came to a standstill two people got out of their cars helped her up, decided she’d be more comfortable driven home with the couple rather than the single guy and wouldn’t take no for an answer. They even stopped and bought her frozen peas before returning her to her dorm room and walking her all the way to her door. Whether you need it or not someone you don’t know will come along and offer you help and it warms your soul.

False sense of security

But all those runners out there, the cars the streetlights, the fancy sleepy neighbourhood and how close help seems can l lull you into a false sense of security. You might think, “who’s going to do anything here or, “he’s just a weirdo.” Keep aware you your surroundings, trust your gut and if something seems fishy get yourself out of the situation ASAP.

All that considered I still love running in the city when I have a chance. Are any of these tips new to you? Do you have any more to offer?

 

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