Walsh's Wonderings — The right way

Robert F. Walsh
Robert F. Walsh

I’ve rarely been accused of doing things the right way, but I know I’m not alone when I’m out for a walk. It’s reassuring to see how many of my neighbors are equally oblivious to the rules of right-of-way. It’s frustrating, but reassuring nonetheless.

Let’s start off with an obvious one: State statutes remind us that if there’s a sidewalk available for walkers, use it. If not, one should walk to one’s left (against traffic) when using the road. Runners are also expected to run against traffic. This helps us avoid the awkward moments when we notice each other 50 yards away, wondering who’s going to either walk on the wet grass or venture out into traffic to avoid the other. If I were a better man, I’d always yield. I’m not and I don’t.

It’s not that I’m being rude; I actually enjoy looking people in the eye and saying hello. It’s the reason I’m not using my treadmill, after all. No, it’s because some folks appear upset when we meet head-on. I’m a teacher by trade and more than happy to use the road as my chalkboard when the occasion warrants.

It’s so much worse on the local school track, however, where the unwritten rules will cause perfect strangers to wish you harm. If you didn’t already know, it’s expected that we run or walk counterclockwise on a track. Not always and not everywhere, as some tracks even rotate direction each day. In general, though, the person who arrives to the empty track establishes the direction. If people are glaring at you like you kicked their cat, you probably chose the wrong direction. (Or you might be dealing with a “serious runner,” the ones who brush your shoulder as they pass from behind and think nothing of direct eye contact as they shame you with how many times they lap you before you complete your first.)

Some of the nicest people I know are runners, but they can’t seem to come to consensus as to why most run in an that endless loop to the left. Some believe an athlete running counterclockwise experiences faster times as a result of the earth’s rotation (although this effect is reversed in the Southern Hemisphere). Others believe the tradition goes back to 700 BC and the Olympic Games, then continued in Rome with the chariot races in the Circus Maximus because emperors watched the finish line from the Palatine hill on the eastern side of the north, where the spina ended.
Others point out that both horses and athletes exert greater power through the right (hind) leg than the left, which is why both infantry and cavalry commanders have always preferred to execute encircling tactics in a counterclockwise direction.
As any child could tell you, the Superior vena-cava, the large vein that collects deoxygenated blood from the head and delivers it to the right atrium of the heart. is aided by the centrifugal force created by counterclockwise running. (That’s why merry-go-rounds run counterclockwise.)

Whoever knows the real reason ain’t telling.

Bicyclists are expected to ride with traffic, where common courtesy dictates riding single file except when passing others. Riding two abreast is acceptable on slow roads, but riding on sidewalks is prohibited in some Connecticut towns and should be avoided unless it’s too dangerous to be on the road. A 1978 law requiring all bicyclists and motorists to yield to pedestrians at or in any crosswalk is often ignored because most don’t realize EVERY intersection is a crosswalk, even if it’s not marked.

I haven’t mentioned motorcyclists at all because they seem to be fair game in Connecticut. When it comes to car drivers’ awareness of motorcycles, it’s a roll of the dice every time bikers put on their helmets.

If they have a helmet at all, that is. It’s perfectly legal for adult riders to go helmetless, but this isn’t the case with children under the age of 16. Not only must they wear helmets when on their bicycles, but they’re also expected to utilize a front light visible from 500 feet, a rear red reflector or light visible from 600 feet, and reflective material on the bike visible from 600 feet on each side at night.

I never knew there were so many ways to be wrong about the right way to share the road. Maybe next time I’ll just take the train instead.

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