Friday, January 24, 2014

How To Not Be An Asshole: Urban Running

Before I lived in an actual city, it never occurred to me that running on a sidewalk in a perfectly nice part of town in the middle of the day could potentially be dangerous. But it can. Hazards abound. Ass-hattery is commonplace.

It would be one thing if these hazards were unavoidable (in the same way that, say, bad weather is unavoidable). But they aren't. They are by & large a result of people failing to pay attention to their surroundings and/or take into account how their actions affect other people who are also trying to use the sidewalk.

Now, don't get me wrong. I am not like one of the Tour de France fan boys who ride their bikes on the Golden Gate Bridge walkway at 40 mph & yell at pedestrians to get out of their way like they are somehow entitled to use it as a training course & how *dare* anyone inconvenience them for the half a second it takes them to jump out of the way. When I'm running in crowded parts of the city (usually unavoidable, since I live in one of them), I do my best to pay attention to who is doing what around me and accommodate other people as much as I can, and most of the time the other people around me are lovely, and everything works out fine.

But at other times, some people will insist on making this INCREDIBLY difficult. Let us count the ways.

Friends, I give you: A Full Taxonomy of Urban Sidewalk Douche-Baggery.


I know many thoughtful, law-abiding cyclists. This section is not about them. This section is more about the ass hat minority that seem to lack basic common sense or courtesy for their fellow citizens or both.

If you are over the age of 13, you should never be riding a bike on the sidewalk. Period. In fact, in many areas in San Francisco no one should be riding a bike on the sidewalk. The Valencia Corridor, for example. Yes, it's technically legal for kids, but use some judgment, here, parents. Hipsters are congregating. Activists are activating. Artisinal coffee is being lined up for. Somebody is going to get hurt. I have been three times hit head-on by a cyclist and two of those times, it's because the (adult) cyclist was riding on the sidewalk. Two feet from the bike lane.

I hate you. We all do, actually.

If you're on a bike path that pedestrians share (ie, The Panhandle), a) stay in the right lane, b) use a bell / your voice to warn pedestrians that you're coming up behind them, and c) use a light in the dark. The third time I was hit by a bike, it was because the cyclist was weaving in and out of both lanes in the dark with no light. I tried to get out of her way & it was like she followed me, off the path, right into the grass. There was blood.

Dog Walkers

Again, responsible law-abiding dog walkers, I am not railing at you.

But GODDAMN. There is a limit to how many dogs one person can safely walk on a sidewalk at one time.

Extreeeeeeeeme dog walking!!!!

Livin' la vida loca!!!

Look, People Walking All Teh Dogs: I can't go around you. And neither can anyone else. This sidewalk ain't big enough for the 14 of us.

Extreme dog walking has become such a big problem in San Francisco that we've actually passed a law about it. Look what you made us do.

And it's not just the extremists that cause problems. Urban runners, I'm sure you've met This Guy:

There are places where it's reasonably safe to have your dog on a 30 foot leash. Like in a dog park, or a large open area. But on a busy urban sidewalk, this situation is going to play out one of two ways: 1) Despite my best efforts to navigate it, I trip over your seven hundred foot long leash and go crashing to the pavement, or 2) Your dog decides between my feet looks like a GREAT direction to go and one of us gets brutally kicked in the face. (I am not saying who but one of us is a LOT bigger than the other & wearing shoes.) I have lost count of the number of times this has happened.

I also love how too-long-leash guy is always like, "Oh, sorry! Sorry! Sorry!" Forget your sorries, dude. Sorry doesn't bandage up the bloody spots. Apology NOT accepted.


Children are all brain-damaged. You can tell this because they will see a fast-moving object coming directly at them & just stare at it. I get that; I taught school for eight years. In & of itself, this isn't really a problem. As long as there aren't too many hipsters waiting for coffee or clipboard-wielding Sierra Club members, I can probably just move a foot or so to one side. The trouble is that the all-time favorite activity of children (as far as I can tell) is to move with blinding speed in *completely* unpredictable directions. Sometimes it is like they are actually trying to block your path, while also effecting complete & total obliviousness to your existence. I think I have only actually ever knocked over one small child, but this is only due to preternatural agility & significant gymnastics background on my part.

Look, this ain't suburbia. Busy urban sidewalks are not the place for free-range children. If your child is at or below the brain-damaged age, maybe put them on a leash (not 700 feet long) or in a back pack or in one of those wheeled cart-things. Or, I dunno, pay attention to where they are & what they're doing. That works too.



Double yes.

Not good very bad abort abort
(You have to imagine the seven hipsters & three Sierra Club ladies.)


Friendship is just awesome. This is my opinion at all times *except* when I am running alone on a busy urban sidewalk. Then, ooooh, I hate friendship SO EFFING MUCH. So. Much. Because this:

What is your damage?? I know you see me because we made eye contact. I know you know I am moving in your direction. I assume you are capable of comparing the width of the sidewalk to the width of your group. I also assume you don't think I can quantum tunnel through you and/or your besties or collapse all the particles in my body so as to slip through the four-inch gap between you guys and the nearby stoop / storefront / artisan coffee line / gaping whole in the ground.

Don't get me wrong; I love living in the city, but some days it is almost enough to make you move to the 'burbs & scout out some nice, safe fire trails.


  1. How have you been hit by cyclists three times? I definitely have jumped on the sidewalk on my bike for a block here and there when the road is like, you know, a DEATH TRAP. And, I definitely don't always warn pedestrians I'm passing on their right because, like, most of the time they just jump right instead and yell at me. But, still, I have never hit anyone while riding my bike. That seems sort of insane.

    1. I think there is a particularly clueless breed of cyclists in SF who seriously have no awareness of *anything* going on around them. I also feel pretty sure they are probably like that all the time as people, not just when they're on their bikes. All three times it was like they were totally oblivious I was there until they slammed into me.

      Too bad about the runners who yell at you -- I really appreciate it in the Panhandle when cyclists alert me that they're there. (Although there are still a few assholes who will yell "ON YOUR LEFT!" and I will move as far right as I can and they will *still* graze my sleeve as they pass. But again -- that is definitely just a few douche-tards, not everyone.)

  2. Ugh, I got called seriously dressed down (including being called a "total bitch") once near Ocean Beach for calling "on your left," nicely, at a pedestrian who was wandering between sides of the path while I was on my bike, and now I am hesitant to call out in a normal passing situation (e.g. one where the pedestrian is on the right, I can pass on the left, and there isn't any traffic coming in the other direction). I also think people are not good at directions (like, saying "on your left" makes people turn to their left and wander/veer that direction so often).

    But also, sidewalk riding, no no no. I actually rode on an empty sidewalk for like .02 mile the other day because there was a car parked in such a way that I couldn't get past, and I still feel guilty about it.

    When I was learning to bike in the city, I declared that children (especially on wheels) are more terrifying than cars, and I still believe it. The retractable dog leash is also basically the worst.

    1. Lol....I totally don't begrudge you hopping on the sidewalk to avoid death when there are no pedestrians. But there are some streets in the city where I'm like "Really??? You chose to ride on *this* sidewalk???"

      I really don't get the yelling at people who are just trying to let you know they're there. Like I said, it only pisses me off when the warning is followed by someone nearly running me over.

  3. I agree with all you've said. I would never dare run on Valencia because I'd be in a rage spiral within seconds. I am 100% guilty of elbow- and shoulder-checking tourists (I assume they're tourists?) who are walking four or five across, taking up one of the paths in Golden Gate Park. I am running toward you. Why don't you give me a little space rather than making me run into that puddle or that pile of police horse poop! GAARGHHH

    PS Found your blog through Cathryn Heart's Content. Great stuff! I am running Napa Valley in March so was especially bummed to read about your injury!

    1. Thanks & welcome! I really, really try hard to go around people, but if they're being that oblivious I really have no problem shoving my sweaty self right up against them.

  4. This is why I prefer early morning runs when there is no one on the streets!

  5. LOL! So true and so funny. Those girls (guys, grandmas, whatever)... walking towards me... and not moving.. we are running out of time here! Can't stand it. Great post.

  6. Haha, you are so spot on with all of these. I'm SO happy that we just added bike lanes to St Charles ave and Carrollton, two major roads I run, but idiots still bike on the sidewalk (against traffic, naturally) at times. The most annoying to me are the besties (or tourists, same thing) and the long-leashed dogs. People are generally very good about leashing dogs here, but the whole I' -taking-up-one-side-and-my-dog-gets-the-other rule of sidewalk usage totally prevents me from going around.

    1. I just can't understand how they can be *that* oblivious to the trouble they're causing other people. Absolutely infuriating.

  7. I run in a nature preserve, and people letting their dog leashes out all the way or people who just let their dogs go free are a common hazard. They come running toward you, and the owner is shouting that "he's friendly!" Yeah...he won't be so friendly when a runner ends up hurting him in a collision!
    The chattering friends...ugh...then there are people on cell phones who can't manage to move in a straight line!
    Props for the Cosby reference on the brain damaged kids!

    1. Ugh, I've heard about that kind of thing a lot from friends who run in open park-like areas or on trails. It seems like yet another symptom of people who are just not thinking about how what they're doing affects other people. (Also, I'm the person who's like "I'm not afraid of you're dog, I just don't want to touch it!")

  8. I 100% agree with this post! I've had close calls with all of the above, but have been lucky to avoid actual incidents (knock on wood). I had the opposite experience that Kimra had, where I failed to call out while running past 2 pedestrians taking up the whole sidewalk, and then got an earful as I passed. And just today, I had a bicyclist call out, "On your right! 2 bikes!" while she passed on the LEFT side. I light-heartedly pointed out her mistake and we both had a laugh.

    But on a serious note, riding bikes on sidewalks is not only annoying, but *very* dangerous. Cars do not look for you, especially if you are riding in the opposite direction.

  9. In full agreement with almost everything in this post -- I regularly encounter much of this in SF when I run there. I must say, my suburban paved trail running is almost completely devoid of these annoyances, and for that, I'm supremely thankful.

  10. lol on this post! This line summed up SF in a nutshell "Hipsters are congregating. Activists are activating. Artisinal coffee is being lined up for." Though I got to say that sidewalks are basically reserved for walking only, and people that want to do anything else other than this need to use a lot of caution - basically anything going faster than walking speed needs to be really careful. Not totally sure what to suggest to you to get out of your neighborhood for a run, but it likely sucks.