Lighten up runners and cyclists

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Paul Oppenheim

Running Columnist

Runners, cyclists should be visible after dark.

Back in early November when early morning runs were in complete darkness, OWies member Sarah Buerger showed up one morning with a lighted running vest that was so bright that it would even attract notice on the Vegas strip. The thing had a full panel of red lights on the back and white lights on the front. And boy, was it visible!

Most of the rest of us wear reflective vests as protection in the dark, but Sarah's was in a whole different category. We gave her some ribbing about being the River Forest flasher, among other compliments about the new gadget, but the fact remained that her vest was the ultimate in runner visibility. A month later, fellow OWie Greg Padgett bought one of them, and now Don Offermann has one, too.

As I said, most members of our group wear reflective vests, and some add little blinking lights, but the whole issue of night-time visibility needs frequent reinforcement. There are still too many out there in dark clothing who are courting disaster.

How often have you been driving when you (barely) see some jerk in dark clothes running, or on a bike with no lights, no reflectors, and sometimes even riding on the wrong side of the street? I usually drop a few four-letter words and shake my head at the sheer foolishness of this practice. Of course the people who need to heed this advice probably won't be reading this.

In my bicycle group we mostly ride during daylight hours, but some times of the year at 7:00 am lights and high visibility are essential. I have a bright, flashing taillight, and a flashing headlight. That headlight isn't for me to see where I'm going, it's for others to see where I'm going.

Not only the OWies, but the Oak Park Runners Club have tried to stress night-time visibility to their members. Garments with reflective strips are good, but you shouldn't assume that a few tiny reflective accents will provide full protection. The more the better.  There are lots of flashing lights that clip to your clothing, but many are pretty invisible from, say, a half block away. Would an approaching car be able to see you in time?

I used to hang a new running jacket on a door knob in a dark room and see how well it showed up in the beam of a flashlight. Some that had "reflective accents" were pretty disappointing, so I wouldn't wear them in the dark. And unless the streets are snowy, white is still a pretty effective color after dark. Again, the example of the person on a bike in dark clothes: if that person had been wearing even a white t-shirt, there would have been much better visibility.

So while running or cycling, be visible after dark. Wear light colors, reflective materials, blinking lights, or all of the above. And for the full Star Wars effect, get a vest like Sarah Buerger's. However, there's always the chance that planes headed to O'Hare International Airport could mistake you for the runway.



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Reader Comments

5 Comments - Add Your Comment

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Bridgett Baron  

Posted: January 10th, 2017 3:22 PM

Andy, I can see how you might be offended, and thus defensive, by Paul's use of the word "jerk" in his letter. However, it doesn't negate the fact that, as Ada points out, the town is not lit enough (except for some major streets like Lake) for cyclists and runners to be donned in dark clothing at night without any reflectors or lights. What does a person's driving ability have to do with not be able to see someone? And, I am sensitive to the fact that some may have budgetary constraints which don't allow for the blinking light vest mentioned in this letter. But doing a quick Google search, you can get a reflector vest for $6.77 at WalMart. You can get a swankier version with pockets from Amazon for $9.99. That seems to be a reasonable amount of money one would be willing to pay not to be maimed or killed. Our family has both cyclists and motorists. This is not an Us vs Them conversation. It's giving feedback that it's impossible (until it's too late) to see some runners and cyclists at night when they are wearing dark clothing, and no reflective gear. I appreciate the feedback/warning.

Ada Johnson Tikkanen  

Posted: January 10th, 2017 3:00 PM

anyone who blows a stop sign is in the wrong Andy. And I also have a perfect driving record (knock on wood). I'm pretty certain my abilities are just fine to drive after sundown. I'm just making a point we need better lighting. Lighten up (you and the Village).

Andy Moss  

Posted: January 10th, 2017 2:29 PM

If it's the case that you feel you can't adequately control your vehicle under these circumstances, then all of us--drivers, cyclists, pedestrians--respectfully request that you not drive in Oak Park after sundown. And don't get me started on drivers who exceed the speed limit and roll through stop signs.

Ada Johnson Tikkanen  

Posted: January 8th, 2017 5:33 PM

Andy - it doesn't matter how fast your driving. Our streetlights are not powerful enough. Our village is dark. There is even a new trend of downward facing led lights which may just be the ticket. I'm at 10 and 2 with eyes darting like a nervous Jack Russel when I drive around here. Low visibility of not just runners and bikers but pedestrians in general. And don't get me started on the kids texting while riding...or the bikers who blow through stop signs.

Andy Moss  

Posted: January 8th, 2017 5:17 PM

Good advice, but no need to ascribe bad motives to people who are inadequately visible ("How often have you been driving when you (barely) see some jerk in dark clothes running, or on a bike with no lights, no reflectors, and sometimes even riding on the wrong side of the street? I usually drop a few four-letter words and shake my head at the sheer foolishness of this practice. Of course the people who need to heed this advice probably won't be reading this.") Keep in mind that hi-vis or technical riding/running gear may not be within the budget of all people on two wheels or on foot. But equally as important, if you are driving a car and are concerned that you will not be able to slow down or stop in time to avoid someone who is not adequately lit, then consider whether you are driving too fast for conditions.

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