This afternoon I was making the routine rush of taking the kids to Tae Kwon Do when I came upon a dilemma. I am a fan of the Share Space concept for walkability and neighborhood development but I came across a situation that really ticked me off. My usual route had a gaggle of some twenty teenage boys jogging down the road. This was not a big deal, just annoying. This was a local road with broad sweeping curves. Passing a couple platoons of joggers did not seem like a good idea with restricted sight distances. Fortunately I was able to switch roads and pass down the small Park. Just a nuisance when I was in a hurry.
Halfway down this second road was a group of a dozen runners standing in the street. Not blocking it, but completely occupying half of it. A coach or organizer was going over some rules or results. One could tell because he was pacing back and forth flipping through a clip board. I was starting to get annoyed.
This annoyance struck me as strange. I was not delayed that much and some miracle today had me ahead of schedule. Driving slow around people in the road is not that unusual. I see mothers with strollers and casual bicyclists all the time. This road also has cars parked along it so racing along is a bad idea anyway. Why was I so annoyed?
I think the answer lies in the changing of the rules. People do not stand around in a group on this road. Ever. A driver expectations are critical for their behavior. The environment gives clues as to what is proper and what is reckless. In my case the only thing that changed was a bunch of people decided to stand out in the road talking to one another as some guy wanders back and forth with a clipboard.
This sudden change is something we need to keep in mind when we are planning events or designing a neighborhood. There may be some problems the first few times something is different and some hard feelings may result until people get used to the change.
What could different?
The runners could have not stood in the road but on some of that five acres of grass that is a park only twenty feet away.
Some of the runners could have at least paid attention that they are standing in a spot cars often legally travel thirty miles an hour. A little eye contact and a brief wave goes a long ways on sharing a space.
The organizer could have put out signs warning runners were about. Tell drivers that conditions are different and to expect something new.
Finally, the best option is to make this a routine event. I don’t believe (most) drivers are opposed to sharing the road if they are used to sharing the road. It is the new and unexpected is always the most dangerous.
As a driver what could I do different? I did slowdown to less than ten miles an hour and paid careful attention to the people (because they certainly were not!). I just became annoyed because the road I often take suddenly a track event with no warning. Now I know and I can add clueless people waiting on a shmoe with a clipboard to the list of baby strollers, dog walkers and elderly out for a walk on this sidestreet behind the park.
I guess my point is people need to be aware when they are sharing a space. Yes, everyone has a right to be there but respect is a two way street too! Recognize when you are changing conditions and pay attention to your surroundings. We can all get along much better.