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.