During a recent bike commute up 15th Street NW, I asked a jogger why he was using the protected bike lane instead of the sidewalk. His response: “There aren’t a lot of good places to run in DC.” While I personally try to avoid running at all costs, I still wondered if this was true. I investigated, and according to my fellow GGWash contributors, DC is a great city to run in—just don't do it in the bike lanes.
Runners in DC have a world of route options...
One of the things that makes DC a great city for runners: options. If you’re looking to just get out for a quick jog or don’t want to make a day of it, you can just hop out your front door and go from there. And if you want more ideas, Kate Haselkorn wrote about 10 great running trails you can easily access via Metro just last week.
Some areas might be busier than others, but Scott Kaiser notes that it’s pretty easy to adjust course accordingly:
I do, in general, try to avoid areas of town where sidewalks get crowded (M Street NW) but I've never felt there were a lack of safe alternative routes. My only beef is the lack of general sidewalk etiquette when people walking towards you four abreast fail to move over.
Some people like Topher Matthews even combine their commute and their workout into one. “I run home from work a couple days a week,” Matthews says. “It takes care of two birds (commuting and exercising) with one stone. I run exclusively on sidewalks, mostly Mass Ave from Union Station to Dupont.”
For those looking to get away from red lights, pedestrians, and narrow sidewalks, DC’s many trails offer a great escape. Take it from Mike Grinnell:
DC as a whole is a great city for running. However, if you are in one of the more built up areas lacking the trails and parks it can make for a miserable experience running between the people on sidewalks and stopping at the lights. The good news is DC has plenty of great trails, most on the west side of the city. Some of them are even secluded enough to make you forget you're in the city.
“When I'm logging eight miles I don't want to stop at red lights and dodge people,” said Katie Gerbes. “The trails offer a perfect solution to that, so much so that I found myself aggravated when I was running out of town and had to use a sidewalk because no trail is available.”
For runners who stick to the sidewalks, pedestrians and red lights might not be the most irritating part of their jog. Topher notes:
The aggravation is not from dodging pedestrians (the sidewalks are wide enough) or waiting on red lights (I don't mind the break). It's dealing with cars. When they're not turning without looking or crossing the sidewalk at a curb cut without looking, or running red lights without looking, they're just staring at their phones and occasionally looking up to honk. I find myself shouting at drivers on a regular basis.
...but bike lanes aren’t one of them
If you do find yourself running on a busy sidewalk with no plans to change course, though, is it okay to use the bike lane?
Steven Seelig says no:
The bike lane exists as a "safe" part of the transportation infrastructure. It is not a recreational trail. The vast majority of runners are doing so as recreation and not transportation, and have plenty of alternatives about where they are headed, mostly because they are not really headed anywhere except in a circle. Whereas most bike riders using bike lanes are headed from point A to point B.
Others agreed that runners should stay out of the bike lanes, but noted that if you need to get around a group of people on a narrow sidewalk, dipping into the bike lane for a moment is okay—as long as you check that there’s no one coming first!
“I don't agree with running continuously in any bike or traffic lane,” said Ned Russell. “I do on occasion do so to avoid a crowded section of sidewalk or other obstacle. That's fair but a jogger should jump back on the sidewalk after that.”
But what about ditching the sidewalk to run in the street? Ned says sometimes you can’t avoid it—when you can’t, make sure it’s only for a moment and that you stay out of traffic:
I often run in the street in Old Town [Alexandria] due to sidewalk congestion. The issue is the sidewalks are narrow on certain blocks with doors that open directly onto them. I typically just jump onto the street (not bike lanes, just to the left of parked cars) because I'm worried if someone steps out of one of those shops and I slam into them I will knock them over. It's only a few blocks and I jump back on the sidewalk once I've passed.
The conclusion of my investigation: Run on, DC. Just not in the bike lane.