Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Can you hear me now?

Florida Weekly 'Outdoors' column, 7/18/18

Free T-shirts from past races were part of the perks at the 2018 FMTC Membership Run.
Walkers and runners can be spotted everywhere at almost any time of the day. These two activities are very popular because they’re such an easy and cheap way to get fit, to socialize, and for practical reasons, such as getting to work and taking care of errands. Whether solo or in a group, organized or not, more of us than ever are regularly taking to the pathways and roads on foot. Organized running events are fewer this time of year than during the cooler months but still taking place because demand is there.

And on any given weekend morning I’m among the many who pound the pavement as if the heat and humidity wasn’t even a factor. But one disturbing trend I’ve noticed becoming even more common is the use of earbuds, headphones and other listening devices by runners and walkers.

While not illegal for pedestrians to use them (it is for cyclists and motorists per Florida Statute 316.304) it’s clear they create problems for a number of obvious reasons. Other than when on a treadmill we runners and walkers are mixing with traffic, no matter how much of a “protected” environment we may believe we’re using. That traffic includes other pedestrians (which include users of wheelchairs and power chairs, skaters and skateboarders), cyclists, low-powered electric vehicles and motorists. Intentionally reducing or fully eliminating our ability to hear what’s going on around us while in that situation isn’t too smart, to put it bluntly. Besides the safety aspect there’s the social element: it’s pretty rude to ignore your walking or running buddies by shutting them down. This goes for organized events where many participants are sharing space, even when the course (theoretically) is free of cars.

I witness the problems created by these devices at races when taking on the duty of ensuring the front runners stay on course and run interference for them by leading them out on bike. This task is becoming more difficult not by drivers who sometimes venture onto closed race courses or onlookers crossing or standing in the middle of the road but instead by the race participants themselves. In almost all cases the reason some runners create a problem is because they’re wearing earbuds and unable to hear me telling them to move to one side, so the leaders can pass or provide other instructions. This sometimes happens when coming head-on toward them because some folks run or walk with their head down so they neither hear nor see me trying to get their attention.

Most recently I rode the lead bike for the Fort Myers Track Club’s annual Membership 5K Run. This year’s course was fully contained within the Lee County Sports Complex on its driveways, parking areas and paved paths. This compact course included numerous conflict points as runners and walkers encountered each other, sometimes from the opposite direction and other times in the same direction. Adding to the course challenges was a baseball tournament taking place that morning so vehicular traffic was unexpectedly thrown into the mix.

As it turned out the biggest problem was not 3,000-pound vehicles seeking to encroach onto the race course as drivers tried to determine where their field was and where to park — race volunteers managed them well — but rather from the runners and walkers who were unable to hear me as I attempted to get the leaders past them. So as not to run over some of the clueless runners and walkers I enlisted the help of those who could hear me to make physical contact with the unhearing to get their attention. By my estimation one-third to one-half the participants were among the clueless.

Even after participants were reminded in no uncertain terms when registering and at the start line that any type of listening devices is prohibited — as is the case for all running/ walking events sanctioned and insured by Road Runners Club of America ( — many decided to ignore the common sense rule. If this were a triathlon, even a short sprint distance that attracts many firsttimers and casual athletes, anyone failing to heed the rule would have been disqualified. I can only hope that close calls — not serious injuries or worse — will convince my fellow runners and walkers to forego the earbuds and keep the vital sense of hearing in full use when out there mixing in traffic, no matter what the traffic entails. ¦

- Dan Moser is a long-time bicycle/pedestrian advocate and traffic safety professional who cycles, runs and walks regularly for transportation, recreation and fitness. Contact him at and 334-6417. 

For Lee County cycling and tri events visit Caloosa Riders Bicycle Club (; Florida Mudcutters (; and SW Florida Biking Meetup Group ( The Florida Bicycle Association ( is your source for statewide happenings. BikeWalkLee’s blog site has all the information you’ll need to stay abreast of advocacy efforts in Southwest Florida as well as statewide and nationally.

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