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Listen Up Inline Skaters & Cyclists: Grow Your Sport or Ruin It For Everyone

roadskater's picture

My legs were tired and a wall of rain was on the way, but somehow I got out to Greensboro Country Park in time for 10 miles or so before dark, and almost before the display of lightning flashes that had me worried more than usual about getting zapped. I saw no way my 100mm wheels would protect me from a spark arc.

Along the way before the storm arrived I was thinking how I felt people knew me there by now and that there were not too many who were surprised when I came by. I'd been wearing the tangerine Roadskater.net color every time out (different jersey each day, same color) and thought it might've helped with recognition.

I was thinking the best way to grow the sport is not by winning competitions nobody sees except other skaters or their families, but by skating where people are walking their dogs, running, texting and walking and riding their bikes...and by just being nice, overly nice, whenever possible.

Yes, if inline skating makes the Olympics, that'll grow the sport, but that won't be me making it happen. This is what I or you can do to grow the sport. Represent it well, as often as you can.

So as I was thinking this I noticed headlamps behind me and figured at this time of afternoon/evening it was a park employee. I waved to them without looking so they would know I knew they were there, then I saw the white truck the park employees use. It turned out it was Larry, the park director. We talk now and then and he knows how I feel about how skaters should handle themselves in the park (as well as others, by the way). He usually waves and goes on, but this time he stopped and said, "Hey I want to ask you a question." Well I figured that wasn't so good, but I knew it wouldn't be so bad, either.

It turns out that there have been a couple of speed skaters out during the day before the park closes to traffic about whom he has received multiple complaints. He very nicely asked me if I knew them and I said maybe but that they weren't likely part of our group, as we had talked many times about the importance of keeping our rights there and representing skating. I said perhaps they were on a speed team around here and they were young guys out of school now who didn't really understand the etiquette and consequences. He said they were very good skaters as far as that goes, but that they were at various times:

  • yelling at people (in negative tones) to get out of the way
  • holding up cars by staying in the middle of the road without letting the cars pass.

Neither of these is going to work. Greensboro Country Park is about the only place nearby to do any roadskating that is in a protected area where, even if there are cars, there's a low speed limit. At night there are not cars, but there are people and dogs and baby buggies and all that. It's part of it.

A few years back, we lost the right to skate there in the day. We need to keep that right so we can go out even when cars are in the park. We don't need to make ourselves unwelcome any time of the day.

It's too easy to see that No Skating sign go up, and too hard to get it back down. We know; we've lived it.

I told Larry I hoped he'd give warnings then tickets then ultimately ban skaters and others who were acting rudely to the other people in the park, and more importantly, causing dangerous situations. I know for sure there are plenty of runners and walkers who have been a danger, and plent of dogs, too. Especially dangerous are those young ones running while listening to the ipod in both ears, while oblivious to their dog on an expander leash. 

Ban the skaters or others who behave badly, not the skating or running or walking or dogwalking or cycling. By all means, please don't ban the skaters, cyclists, dogs, walkers or runners who don't do these things.

Larry has defended us and our rights to be in Greensboro Country Park for a decade now, since before he was the director, and he knows most of us well enough to stand up to people who may rarely have some complaint. But it's my job to make sure I do all I can to avoid or repair any situation that might lead to a complaint, rather than wait for someone to defend me.

Because he knows us from a decade of skating Country Park, Larry has stood up for roadskaters in various situations along the way. For example, I know he wants to protect our reasonable access to the park even when events might be held there which don't really need the whole park. He'll always try to set up the event so regular park visitors can still find a safe way through, even if more slowly than usual.

But you're not going to last long with anyone who cares about the regular park users if you come flying through and yelling rudely at people like you are the only one who matters. Making enemies won't improve your fun with every lap. It's not always easy to keep in mind when working out, but you need friends where you work out, and it will eventually make it more enjoyable.

Believe me, you can slowly improve the image of skating somewhere, or you can quickly ruin it, and even end skating there, if you don't put some effort in on getting some allies who don't skate.

Yes it's tiring, and others probably hate it, but I honestly try to have more of a conversation than "on your left" provides. Usually it's a matter of

  • taking one lap to warm up and let people know you're out there;
  • deciding where is the least offensive place to go through, often the middle of the road (so left and right are not involved because of how long it takes some to figure out what it means);
  • communicating in a friendly tone that you'll be going through there but you have plenty of room (if you do);
  • asking how they're doing (sometimes I admit I ask the same people every lap);
  • thanking them if they seemed to have really done something helpful;
  • going back and asking if they're ok if there was any kind of problem;
  • not mentioning their headphones/expander leash/dog/not watching out for their kids/talking on the cel loud enough to not hear/etc.;
  • not guessing where they're going but trying to be clear where you'll be and that you won't skate into them;
  • encouraging kids to keep going straight when telling them you're coming by (and complimenting their helmet too!);
  • not getting into any kind of racing mode (certainly not one you're not prepared to give up instantly...just try that timed lap again later).

If you're doing it right, people will start to listen for your wheels and will start walking and handling their dogs in a way that's safer for everyone, and they'll even be encouraging and may even thank you for letting them know where you'll go by and for saying hello.

We should be trying to make that park so that if there was a vote for mayor of the park, we'd win the election. That way, when someone complains (and surely they will), others hearing the complaint will represent us and our sport on our behalf.

If it came to a vote at city council, would you have allies who don't skate who would speak on your behalf and would say skaters belong in the park. You'd want them to say skaters would be missed if they were not there.

That doesn't mean you need to brake every time you go by someone or stop for every situation, but look for ways to pleasantly avoid an accident wherever possible.

Over ten years you can make it where the park director wants to talk to you about it before doing anything, already knows from the description that it is not you they are complaining about, but some other skaters you may know, and he'll ask if you know them so you can talk with them without him getting confrontational with them at all...or at least it is nice if it goes that way. I was upset that skaters had scared some people and been rude with them, but happy that Larry wanted to let me know about it.

The biggest annoyance in the park may be people spread out all over the whole road and not paying attention to their dogs and kids, but they'll know when they made that mistake after you go by once, and hopefully they'll pay more attention the next lap. They'll especially want to do this if they are your ally by then, if they think you could have criticized them and it would have been fair...and you didn't.

The next biggest annoyance might be the dog poop in the road. I know it's not anywhere near every dogwalker who lets this happen, but just a few can really diminish my enjoyment of the park and lower my attitude of dogwalkers. So don't be dog poop, ye skaters and cyclists.

Think how you feel when faster traffic of any kind goes by. If they don't speak or if they speak gruffly, you might be a bit annoyed. If they seem to come as close as they could to "buzz" you, well that won't make you like them more, unless you can tell they didn't have room to do othewise. But if they go the least bit out of their way to be friendly, it can change your outlook on the whole situation.

Believe it or not, Country Park is not anyone's private racing grounds. It is a shared space and we are allowed to train there, and we relish in the chance to enjoy that place and to hopefully get some people to consider skating, or at least to reconsider what they think of skaters.

In the end, annoyances don't matter. We go and we enjoy the park and we go home. But Larry told me he had a young girl die in his arms one day at one of the shelters (I believe he said this was after being hit by a high speed cyclist). And it didn't matter who was right or wrong. She was gone and life was different for several people who had to go on living, including Larry.


eebee's picture

When did that happen?

When did the 6 year old get killed by the cyclist? I assume you mean at Country Park? Seems like they would have banned all cycling of any kind in that park after that. I can always use a reminder on how to behave since I pretty much can only skate at a crowded park these days. These are excellent points you're making.
roadskater's picture

Cycling Deaths, Skateboarding, Water Fountains, Rest Rooms

I'm sorry to say I didn't really ask the details and since there's such a huge load of guilt to go around for everyone involved I didn't want to try to describe any of it. The more I think about it and look into it, the less sure I am exactly what he said abou thte incident. More than one person MIGHT have been at fault, but if I heard it right, at least one part of it was a cyclist was going too fast for the park. Larry was not even interested in blaming anyone. He was just saying the end result was this girl died in his arms. After that experience, I'm sure it's even more important to him that the park be fun and safe for everyone possible. Some of the roadcyclists who've shown up there in the past for training were heads down blasting it. If I'm recalling correctly, over the last decade there've been a few cycling related deaths there and nearby, and this has been a bit more likely before some of the races that have been held there (very much against the wishes of the organizers), as people from everywhere (including here) come to the park especially the day before and try to get the advantage by ripping through the course at race speed. We've noticed far fewer cyclists of the racing type lately, so word must have gotten around that it is not the place for pushing it to the limits. It's a GREAT place to enjoy skating and cycling recreationally, and for base training and perhaps a bit more, but the park is used by more people on foot than before due to the bark park (which is great even if I don't use it or it doesn't suit my skating as well). I mentioned some other issues to Larry as well, including the fact that we've seen more cyclists than ever going clockwise against the traffic direction in the park. I suggested that at every common entrance for bikes that they put BIKES --> on the pavement. Walkers are going to go both ways, dogs every which way, runners clockwise facing traffic (and facing skaters and bikers trying to use the same edge of the road, along with any walkers who don't want to give that lane up to bikes or skaters). Also, it's unclear at different times of day what should be done by all parties, I admit, depending on the presence of cars. I told Larry that the lane is not that useful since it's not considered just for bikes and skaters even when it's well painted. I said that getting the direction of traffic specified better would by directional arrows would be the biggest safety change likely to happen. We talked about signs that might help inform people, too, and where they might go. I mentioned we'd like to have a water fountain access on the main loop level (especially at the lower lot) and that I was sure there was no budget for it, but it'd be nice. Portable toilets are out as an option because of vandals who get kicks out of turning them over. Also, it seems people like to rip soap dispensers off the walls of the rest rooms there too. That's truly annoying.
roadskater's picture

What Next, a Young Copperhead Snake?

Well today was no less fun as I got out again for about 10k before the red rain was coming down all over me, or at least across the radar screen of my cel. I had decided to show and go slowly and I think I did that well enough for the first lap. I saw a little snake in the road, probably only 24" or so long, and not what I'd call an adult, but a nice light coppertone like a mix of red clay and tan sand perhaps. I'm not one to yell, "copperhead!," so I didn't. But as luck would have it I saw the big white truck and told park dude Greg about it. On lap 2 we looked for the snake and didn't see it. By lap 3 I saw it again, encircling itself in the middle of the road, and i wondered if it had been run over, but decided not. I got out the cel and called the park's on-duty-worker cel phone number at the same time the truck appeared again. Greg was able to get the fellow into the back of the truck and after that I don't know what happened. I can dream he'll have a starring role some day at the nearby Nature Science Center. [Subsequent investigations lead me to think it was in fact a young copperhead, about 8 months old, as they're usually born in October it seems. It certainly displayed a beautiful and subtle pattern.] Lap 4 was uneventful, but nice. The air was vaguely electric as there was a storm on the way but it wasn't here yet. Oddly and happily enough, I saw 3 or 4 roadcyclists out there, including Robert (who makes the bike spoke jewelry), and there was a gaggle of runners, some of them absolutely slicing through the evening air (safely, yes). By the end of the rollout from lap 4 as I climbed up the monument hill I caught a few drops and looked at the dark grey ceiling and decided I'd call it a night if the radar showed the storms had continued as it had appeared they would before I decided to go up there. Yep. Red rain.
eebee's picture

Crying 'Copperhead!'

Glad you're no copperhead yeller. After consulting my copy of UGA Professor Whit Gibbons' Snakes of the Southeast book, I concluded you must've seen a small adult copperhead, since the young are supposed to have yellow or green tails. Adults can be just 2 - 3 ft long. But what do I know?! 'Keeled' scales are a clue, as opposed to smooth scales.


roadskater's picture

Never Know What You Might Learn Baking in the Sun at Hartwell

Yes, thanks to eebee for phone consultations on the origin of the species in the park. We heard about that book from a very interesting guy and couple in the parking lot and environs of the Hartwell Elementary School in 2008 at the Challenge of the Centuries I believe. I remember I did some sewing on a jersey while out in the sun and got a tan where I don't usually (having a skaterfarmer's tan). We also went over to the convenience store gas station and got hot water and made our own Cafe Bustelo out by the car using a styro cup with a hole in the bottom and a paper towel for a basket and filter. That was some crankin' good espresso on a hot afternoon!

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