The Perils of Commuting
Trains hey. Love them but they are not the most reliable and certainly susceptible to “inconveniences” being caused. Yesterday I had a stark reminder of this. My journey back from Royal Holloway to Guildford requires two changes, fortunately I was offered a lift to the first change en route and was looking forward to getting home earlier than anticipated.
O how naive.
Due to the very sad occurrence of someone being hit by a train, I had an hour wait for a train to arrive to take me the 10 minutes from Weybridge to Woking. Upon alighting, I was faced with another hour wait for my connecting train to Guildford – again a ten minute journey. With no buses running that late, I had a choice between waiting for the train or paying for a taxi.
In the end, I decided to run. A route I had cycled previously, I knew the way and estimated it to be about 6 miles in total and predicted I could be home within the hour at a comfortable pace, with the added bonus of warming up my frosty body. So at 21.50 I set off along the mostly unlit A320, in my loafers, chinos, jumper and coat, carrying my stuffed rucksack on my back. 50 minutes later I was back at home, sweatier and more blistered for the pleasure but home nonetheless – and quicker than waiting for my train.
There are many aspects about running I could tease out of this anecdote to discuss further – appropriate clothing, appropriate routes, impromptu running etc – but in this post I want to explore running as a form of transport. A notion that has been rattling around my mind for quite a while now and certainly something I want to research much further, is the idea of running being a viable and efficient form of local transport that should be taken seriously.
The vignette outlined above demonstrates that on occasion, running can actually be the quickest method of getting to where you want to go. Especially in dense urban areas when traffic can be slow moving and destinations not too distant from one another, running can offer a preferable mode for getting from A to B. Running is quicker than walking, requires less skill and expenditure than cycling, can be quicker than the tube (considering the vertical distance travelled), is less frustrating than being stuck in traffic and is a societal good in terms of environmental and health benefits. Recently Transport for London encouraged rush hour commuters to walk or cycle instead of taking trains on the London Underground in an attempt to reduce overcrowding – why not run?
In my previous work I also spoke to many ‘commuting runners’ (a theme I am eager to develop) who do not necessarily run to/from work as it is their quickest/easiest option but because it fits in with the rhythms of their life. Many have young children and explained how when they return from work in the evenings, they want to spend time with their family and going for a run would certainly get in the way of this. Therefore, they chose to utilise moments when they are already travelling to conduct their running – two birds, one stone if you like. There are undoubtedly many other benefits of running for your commute – but this is not the time to explore them.
Pointless Running vs Running as Transport
Commuting running, or running as transport, differs from other types of running in one key visible aspect, that of its shape. There are four basic (simplified) shapes that a run can take and are identifiable when they become mapped. The most common types of run (loop, lollipop and out-and-back) could be termed ‘pointless’. This is not to say they have no reason to them, but that they tend to begin and end in the same place. Traditional rhetoric about moving in the social sciences has revolved around the relative benefits and negatives between the start and finish location (push and pull factors). Yet most runs do not conform to this displacement – the final destination would have been reached even if no movement had taken place at all.
Running for transport purposes though does conform to this A to B discourse of movement (its shape is a Line) and it would be very interesting to see the ratio between pointless / pointful routes to understand the prevalence of this kind of running (although, routes could be A to B for other reasons than commuting – so caution would be needed).
It is clear that running is rarely (if ever) considered to be a transport mode. Indeed, the presentation I’m giving on road-running at the AAG is in a session on ‘Alternative Mobilities’. Yet the more I ponder this, the less convinced I am that running is that alternative of a transport mode.
John Bale has discussed how running was the second technology (after walking) that humans developed to overcome the distance of space and time. Elsewhere, Gregg Whelan has been concerned by how running relates to humanness and the role running played in our evolution and the development of Homo sapiens. Running is one of the oldest transport forms that humans have. In some parts of the world, running is still a very common form of transport. The great distance runner Haile Gebrselassie developed his trademark ‘wonky’ arm swing as a youth when running with his school books the 10 kilometers to and from school everyday when growing up in Ethiopia.
Even in the (for want of a better term) ‘developed’/’western’ world, the amount of people who, without thought, break into a run as an emergency form of transport – overcoming distance and time – perhaps suggests it should not be so alternative. Being a commuter I get the joy of watching people run across station platforms to make their train, see people running to flag down their approaching bus, running to cross the road before the traffic lights change. This may be transport on the smallest of scales, yet running is being used to get from A to B in the most efficient way possible. If we count each of these occurrences as a journey made by running, I’d hasten to bet it would feature very highly on the transport league tables.
Running as Transport?
Regardless of its standing – I would and will continue to make the case for running to be taken seriously as a mode of transport. It certainly offers an effective, just, environmentally friendly and physically beneficial form of local transport. After all, on average each person in the UK makes 364 trips a year under two miles and 628 under five miles – how many of these could be ran? This is of course also true of many other ‘alternative’ transport modes – skateboards, rollerblades, scooters – but currently my concern is with running.
So what if we take running seriously as a transport mode? What is required to facilitate and encourage it? How can it be planned into transport policy? Do we need public water points? Public showers? Lockers? Running lanes? Should these be provided by businesses? What infrastructural and ideological changes do we need?
I don’t know the answer to these questions but hope to investigate them much further in time.