Earlier this year, high school senior and track start Owen Beam was on a training run near his home in Henderson, NV when he was struck by a car. Owen was running through a crosswalk when a distracted driver hit him; he suffered a concussion and a cut above his eye that required 12 stitches. Thankfully, Owen is recovering now and able to get back to his spring track season, but his horrifying experience is yet another example of the distracted driving epidemic.
Owen, Safe on the Road founder Kaitlin Goodman, and running website editor Doug Binder of Dyestat.com discussed road safety for runners on a recent Zoom discussion. You can watch the conversation on RunnerSpace here.
As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, the Swiss Cheese Model of safety is getting some publicity in the context of pandemic defense. The model has been around since the 1990s and has been widely used across industries, from aviation to nuclear power, to help explain layers of defense to reduce risk and improve safety. Using the pandemic example -- coronavirus germs can pass through the holes of the Swiss cheese. But with many layers of cheese -- here, multiple layers of protection from COVID -- we can slow the spread of the disease. A single layer alone (i.e. testing) is imperfect, but with several layers combined (i.e. mask-wearing, social distancing, hand-washing), we can reduce risk of infection. Great metaphor, right?
Now let's apply the Swiss Cheese Model to pedestrian safety. In the winter months of limited daylight, runners and walkers are often opting outside in the dark, which puts them at greater risk of run-ins with drivers. We've all been there -- we're walking the dog at dusk or going for a morning run before the sun is up, and a driver doesn't see us. Too many pedestrians have stories about close calls (or worse) with drivers. Given the risks associated with running in the dark, what are the layers of protection -- our slices of Swiss cheese -- to help reduce risk of collisions and injuries?
It's important to think about risk reduction from a few angles -- what can you do personally, as a walker or runner, to reduce your own risk? What can drivers do to reduce the likelihood of a collision with a pedestrian? And finally, what can city planners do to help improve safety for all road users?
Below are a few examples of layers of Swiss cheese for pedestrian safety at night. When all these layers are combined and occur together, we're all safer on the road during the dark hours.
Safe on the Road is happy to partner with the East Coast Greenway Alliance to help kick off their inaugural Greenway Games. The East Coast Greenway connects 15 states from Florida to Maine with over 3000 miles of trails. The alliance works to bring safe, equitable, connected spaces to walkers, cyclists, and runners in communities all along the East Coast, a mission similar to ours at Safe on the Road.
Safe on the Road founder, 4-time Olympic Trials Qualifier Kaitlin Goodman, helped open the Greenway Games on July 30 with an Instagram Live with ECG, talking about being an Olympic hopeful, how to adjust goals in the wake of COVID, and why separated greenways and trails are so important. Catch the conversation here!
At Safe on the Road, we advocate for pedestrian and cyclist-friendly streets that meet the needs not just of drivers, also of runners, walkers, and bikers. **These streets must also be safe for people of ALL races, ages, genders, and sexual orientations.** As public health advocates, we reject racism and injustice and are committed to advocating for equal access to safe places in our community to for everyone to walk, run, bike, recreate, socialize, and LIVE! Racism is a public health problem and a root cause of many health disparities, and we are committed to raising our voice as advocates for change. Structural inequities must be addressed and systemic change must happen. #blacklivesmatter #safeontheroad
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, we all need to do our part practicing social distancing. But that can prove difficult on crowded sidewalks and busy bike lanes -- which is why Safe on the Road has been advocating for open streets, encouraging city leaders to close select streets to car traffic and open them to pedestrians and cyclists to create more space for people to be safe on the road.
We've been urging the Mayor of Providence, Jorge Elorza, to follow the lead of many other cities and bring open streets to our city. We've shared our Open Streets Implementation Guide and worked with partners like the Providence Streets Coalition, RI Bike, and Walk PVD to share about the benefits of this policy. More than 200 people signed a Change.org petition in support of open streets. And today, we celebrate, as advocacy leads to action! According to the Providence Journal, the city will soon be closing streets to car traffic to make space for pedestrians and bicyclists to safely social distance. As a spokeswoman for the city said, "“This creates a controlled, safe environment for pedestrians and people riding bicycles, which is a top priority." We are thrilled!
Hoping to bring open streets and extended sidewalks to your community? We’ve got resources to support your advocacy — check out our implementation guide and our email template to send to your city officials. Questions? Let us know how we can help!
“Due care” laws are aimed at preventing accidents and mitigating hazards, in this case for the walkers, runners, cyclists, and others who use our streets for transportation and recreation. Passing vulnerable road user protection laws is a positive step toward increasing awareness amongst drivers to be #safeontheroad and to #drivelikeyourunhere.
Thanks to Senator Archambault and Representative McNamara for sponsoring these bills!
Here is Kaitlin's testimony:
My name is Kaitlin Goodman, from Providence, RI. I am speaking in favor of House Bill H7259, The Vulnerable Road User legislation.
I am a professional distance runner for Adidas and an Olympic hopeful. I hold a Masters in Public Health from Brown University, and I am the founder and director of Safe of the Road, a nonprofit committed to promoting safer streets for runners, pedestrians, and cyclists. But I come before you today as a vulnerable road user.
As I train for the Olympic Trials Marathon, I run thousands of miles across our state each year, on our trails, bike paths, and roads. In the summer of 2018, while on a training run near my home on the East Side, I was very nearly hit by a distracted driver. I had to jump out of the way – and while I successfully avoided getting hit by the car, I was severely injured in the process, partially tearing the hamstring tendon off my pelvis. The resulting injury left me unable to run for 3 months and nearly ended my Olympic dreams. It cost me thousands of dollars in medical bills for treatment and rehab, not to mention the thousands of dollars of lost income when I was unable to train and compete. But the biggest loss for me was not financial – rather, it was losing my ability to run and do the sport I love.
In the wake of this incident with the distracted driver, I founded Safe on the Road. Through our work, I’ve heard hundreds of stories similar to mine from other runners, cyclists, and pedestrians. In some cases, these stories have worse, much more tragic endings than mine. I stand before you today to ask you to acknowledge me, my story, and the many other stories of Rhode Island runners, walkers, and bikers. I support House Bill 7259 because it recognizes vulnerable road users like me as legitimate road users under the law, and sends a powerful signal that my life and my wellbeing are important and worth protecting, and that I have a right to be safe on the road.
Thank you to the House Judiciary Committee.
Founder, Safe on the Road