As a general rule, I tend to avoid confrontation. I don’t enjoy being in altercations with people and I find there is little to gain by engaging people who seem to be ready for a fight at any moment. I have no ego involved in protecting my views and am generally completely fine with walking away without having the last word. I think this attitude has come to me with age: I’ve learned the value of peace vs. confrontation.
My run last week challenged my usual habits though. I was running along a pedestrian and bike lane on a shoulder of road where there is not a lot of pedestrian traffic. The lane connects two great running paths through parks, but for a few hundred meters it runs right beside four lanes of fast moving traffic. The cars in this area are not accustomed to pedestrians and bikes being around them – they tend to want to move fast. There is however a pedestrian crossing light which takes you across the four lanes and back into the safety of the trails. I approached the light just as it turned to the ‘WALK’ signal. A truck made a right hand turn in front of me as I was at the far side – that’s ok – he had time. But I was running and had started across as he was turning. There was a car attempting to turn behind him. I caught his eye as I ran towards him and flashed the peace sign as a signal of “thank-you – I’m crossing”. But somehow he was angered by the fact that I was running across the road in the pedestrian crossing area while the ‘WALK’ signal was clearly flashing. He was in a hurry and wanted to turn right. So he accelerated towards me, swerved around me and gave me a good HONK.
And that’s when my good-natured peace loving patience ran out. I stopped, turned around and yelled indignantly through his open windows, pointing to the ‘WALK’ signal and throwing in a few adrenaline-fueled expletives. As I was yelling I took in the scene in the car. There was a male driver with an older woman as a passenger (possibly his mother) and a young girl in a booster seat in the back. This did not stop me from reacting strongly. As much as the confrontation left me angry, slightly guilty for yelling and much less peaceful than if it had not occurred, I realized that some people need a wake-up call and this could possibly prevent future accidents. Hopefully that guy then got a stern talking to from his mother and is now driving much more cautiously.
I’m not saying I’ve never been in the wrong. I got my driver’s license a week after I turned 16, and I really don’t recall being very aware of bikes or pedestrians as a teenage driver. I can’t think of any specific incidences, but I am sure I was way less courteous than I am now. I’ve also been a new mother with a crying baby in the back, feeling every cry like a stab to the heart and viewing every obstacle between myself and getting home to feed my baby, whether bike, pedestrian or other car, as a direct threat and enemy. So I try not to judge, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t have used a good wake-up call behind the wheel at times. Because when it comes to cars and pedestrians, it really is often about life and death. And maybe the person’s roof you just hit because they cut you off or came too close to you will become a little more aware and is now driving more cautiously. And maybe your confrontation, although it will likely bring a negative impact on your day, could prevent a future accident or death. So if you’re running and get cut off by a car, make a point and speak up for yourself and other pedestrians. And if you’re driving and get yelled at or have your roof hit by a cyclist or pedestrian, my words to you are this: suck it up, smarten up, and just take your medicine – we all need it now and then.