Last Thursday, the sun rose at 6:49 a.m. It was pitch black when I left home at 5:30 for my first pre-dawn bike ride. And it was still pretty dark at 6:30, when I stopped to snap a photo of something I find to be pretty horrific: shadows moving up and down the lake shore path.
Those shadows were runners. Even the ones dressed in light colors to “be more visible” were hard to make out.
Out of the dozens of runners I rode by that day, only one had any sort of light illuminating her existence.
Out of dozens.
Let that sink in for a minute.
It was black as night out there. Some stretches along the north end of the 24-mile long path weren’t even lit up by the Chicago Park District, presumably because the lights were broken, or their timing was skewed due to the change in actual daylight hours.
And a lone female runner was the only one who I passed that was wearing a light. At first I noticed it because I was wearing the same one. Then I realized she was the ONLY runner who was lit up.
The light she wore was exactly like mine, a Bike Planet LED strap that I bought at R.E.I. to put around the dog’s neck so she’d be more visible. But then I decided it would make a nice third light to bike with (I have a blinking front light and a blinking rear light).
And now I see that it’s a good idea to run with it when it’s dark out as well. I couldn’t see crap out there. And I wasn’t even going that fast on my bicycle, maybe 12 mph where the path was unlit.
I’m a runner at heart. I might have picked up cycling and swimming this year as well, but I’m a runner. So I don’t mean to pick on the runners. But most of the cyclists I passed were decked out like Christmas trees.
And let’s be honest, no one lives along the lake shore path, not really. We either have to walk, run, bike or drive there (evn if it’s just across the street). And when runners mix with cars — and even bicycles — there’s an opportunity for disaster lurking at pretty much every corner.
And with the poorly-lit, pre-dawn dark path, it’s a good idea to make yourself visible to other runners and cyclists out there along the lake as well.
Let’s talk some numbers, because if my narrative above didn’t scare you, I hope the facts about pedestrian deaths will.
In 2008, there were 5,320 non-motorist deaths across the United States, according to data provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Just more than 4,400 of those were pedestrian deaths, and 718 were what bicyclist deaths.
That same year in Illinois alone, there were 135 pedestrian deaths, the NHTSA reports. Seventy-eight of those were in Cook County.
The NHTSA breaks down what type of pedestrians are killed by using the following “non-motorist” categories: pedestrian, pedalcyclist (or, bicyclist) and unknown/other.
It’s unclear how many of those fatalities were runners — but it doesn’t matter. Adding non-motorists to the road is dangerous for everyone involved. Therefore, runners need to do everything within their power to be visible to cars, trucks, bicycles, motorcycles, other runners and other pedestrians.
Even if that “road” is the busy, hustle-bustle lake front path.