Should Runners Use Bike Lanes Instead of Sidewalks?

Bikes versus cars, cars versus bikes—and bikes versus runners?

Show of hands: Who’s run in a bike lane before? I’ll admit, it’s super tempting: The stretch of an unobstructed path looks like running heaven during those moments when you find yourself spending precious workout minutes dodging strollers and pedestrians ambling down narrow Center City sidewalks. But is running in the bike lane a safe—and legal—solution?

This morning, local running blogger Carrie opened exactly this can of worms on her blog Miles Covered. Last weekend, she says she counted 10 runners in 10 minutes running in the bike lane on Pine Street, traveling with traffic, some wearing headphones. Sounds like a recipe for an awful accident, right?

Carrie writes:

I would wager that most of these folks do not use these lanes as bikers. Most of us who also bike Philly know that while the bike lanes are awesome, cars do not always respect them. …So when I see runners, charging along in those lanes with traffic, I cringe. I don’t think they have any idea that essentially, they’re running in a moving traffic lane. One that I would argue is even more dangerous than normal lanes because of how cars treat those lanes. As a biker and a runner, I would not even walk against traffic in those lanes. That’s how “safe” I feel they are. I would never, ever run in them.

I have to admit, I agree. Like Carrie, who runs and bikes in Philly, I’m also a fairly regular city biker—why walk when you can get there in a quarter of the time on two wheels?—and I’ve been involved in my fair share of close calls. Once, when I lived in DC, I was hit by a driver who was turning from the opposing lane when she tried to beat me through an intersection. I had the right of way and was in a bike lane. As I laid there—on the ground in the intersection, mind you—she had the audacity to roll down her window and scream at me as if I did something wrong. And then she sped off. The entire incident was baffling, terrifying and incredibly infuriating.

Fact: Many drivers don’t respect bikers. Related: Many bikers don’t obey the rules.

Add a runner to the mix—particularly one with headphones, going with the flow of traffic—and you’ve got a recipe for a really scary collision just waiting to happen. I can imagine a scenario where a runner decides to bail on the sidewalk and steps into the street, maybe from between two parked cars. He doesn’t see the bike coming, the biker doesn’t see him, and—WHAM. You get the picture.

I honestly don’t think bikers and pedestrians of any kind—even the fast moving ones—belong anywhere near each other. (I’ve alluded to the fact that mixed-use trails scare the business out of me.) In cities, that’s why God and the Department of Transportation created bike lanes and sidewalks: to keep one group away from the other. And it’s why I tweeted this morning, in response to Carrie’s post: “My motto: Bike lanes are for bikes. Sidewalks are for runners. Never the two shall meet.”

I checked with the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, and they agree with me. “It’s not a safe thing to do, any more than it is to run in a car lane,” says Nicholas Mirra, the organization’s communications coordinator, who says he’s spotted runners on the Spruce and Pine Street bike lanes from time to time. “As far as we know it’s not technically illegal but it’s not safe for anybody.”

We tried checking on the laws with the agencies that handle the city’s bike lanes, but in true bureaucratic fashion, we haven’t back either way yet. (We’ll update this post if and when we do.) But here’s a thought: Even if there aren’t laws on the books officially banning runners from bike lanes, I’m going to take a wild guess and figure that since we call them “bicycle lanes,” they’re reserved for the exclusive use of, well, bikes.

This is why they pay me the big bucks, people.

Tell us: Do you think runners should use bike lanes? And ‘fess up, have you ever used them yourself during a run?