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At one point in her life, Kaitlin Goodman thought she was invincible. And she bets most young runners probably think that as well.
“When I was in college, I’d run at whatever hour in whatever I felt like, totally oblivious. I was a little less risk averse than I am now,” says Goodman, now 33.
Her perspective and passion around pedestrian safety changed in 2018, when a distracted driver was heading straight toward her. Luckily, Goodman saw the driver and was able to jump out of the way in time; unfortunately, that leap to safety left her with a torn hamstring.
“I had to pull out of New York City Marathon,” Goodman said. “Some doctors were saying this is the end of your competitive running career.”
The injury was devastating. Talking with other runners and hearing how common her story was, only made her more infuriated. Goodman’s mantra has always been to run joyfully, so she decided to do something to help channel that energy in a positive and productive way.
In 2019, Goodman founded Safe on the Road, an education and advocacy non-profit. Her mission is to find ways to create safer roads for vulnerable users — from educating drivers to drive slower sans distractions and pedestrians to make themselves seen to lobbying decision-makers to consider pedestrians and cyclists when designing roadways.
Goodman started small with road signs, worked up to testifying in front of her local House Judiciary Committee, and is now helping others do the same. She was recently contacted by Mary Wells, a mother from Bridge Creek, Oklahoma, neighboring Moore High School, where a group of cross country runners were hit by a drunk driver on February 3rd. Wells’ son is a cross country runner, and the nearby incident has heightened her concern about the potentially dangerous routes the kids are running.
Goodman and her volunteer policy committee will put together a packet of information that Wells can take to her local legislation. A key part of that information, Goodman says, is reminding the decision makers that everyone is a vulnerable pedestrian at some point during their day, even if it is just the walk through the parking lot from their car to the office. The rest of the packet will include research and evidence formatted in a way lawmakers and citizens can understand.
“Can we use this really tragic incident as a catalyst for change?” Goodman says. “Let’s have this conversation that we haven’t been having around where can these athletes can be safely doing what they love and running. There’s space for everyone to use the road safely with thoughtful design.” She’s sure of it.
Part of the solution, as she sees it, is in following the lead the cycling industry has started. Since as far back as the 1800s, cyclists have been advocating for their own safety. The League of American Bicyclists was founded in 1880 after “wheelmen” — what they were called at the time — were sick of dealing with rutted, unpaved roads and the antagonism of horsemen and wagon drivers. (Sound familiar?) Over time, the cycling community has figured out how to make their collective voice heard.
“My hope for Safe on the Road is that we can copy the best practices of the cycling community to really energize and mobilize the running communities,” says Goodman.
The number one issue she hopes to tackle is the speed at which people are driving. “We see from the research that speed really matters in terms of how a victim of an accident like this, if they’re going to live or die. It’s a big determining factor.” And as she’s learning through this project, there are a number of ways to achieve that: speed bumps, speed cameras, strategic signage. Another way is called a road diet, where you reduce the number of or narrow the lanes, forcing cars to slow down. The lane that was taken out can be turned into a multi-use urban trail for bikers, pedestrians, runners, scooters, and wheelchair users.
Alongside running, coaching, and consulting as a public health professional, advocacy has become a passion that she’s woven into her hectic schedule, using recovery time after a long run to dig into urban design research.
Three months after her near-miss in 2018, Goodman returned to running. She was able to run the New York City Marathon one year later, where she placed 25th. And on February 29, she’ll compete at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Atlanta.
“For what I can control, just being able to know that I left everything out there, personally, that would be the ultimate way to say that I achieved the goal or not.”