Street Safety: Keeping your safe space safe

When talking about running with friends and family, and the broader Toronto running community, over the last year, the word safe(ty) always seemed to come up. Many Toronto runners refer to running as their ‘safe place’: an escape from their day to day lives and a space where they feel free and confident. Other Toronto runners (primarily women and other minority groups) often identify running as an activity where their safety has felt compromised. Recently, Toronto runners have been more vocal about these safety concerns through sharing their experiences of unsafe runs on social media. These stories are real, raw, brave, and powerful; however, simultaneously completely disheartening. It is an unfortunate reality that some runners (especially runners identifying with intersectional minority backgrounds) may have their safety compromised when performing an activity that is their safe haven.

Here are some safety tips for Toronto runners as the days get shorter and runs in the dark become the norm:

  • Wear light clothing. Embrace all the funky reflective coloured clothing you can find. The more vibrant the combo the better. Reflective arm bands (glow in the dark slap bracelets for all of you 90’s kids) are also a great accessory to make sure cars can see you.
  • Wear a light. A chest or head lamp are the most common, but any reading light that you can clip onto your shirt will do.
  • Run on the side of the street/sidewalk that goes against the traffic (so that the cars are coming towards you).
  • Avoid noise cancelling headphones – for anyone that is sighted and hearing, if it is dark and sight levels are lower, make sure to maximize your hearing. 
  • In case of emergency, attach a whistle to your fanny pack or zipper on your coat/vest. Set up an emergency contact on your phone or watch (most running watches have this feature now). Also, let someone know when you’re heading out for your run and when you plan on getting back just in case!
  • To prevent safety concerns, avoid routine. Run a different route and try to run at different times throughout the week. Also, make sure your Strava and other run-related social media pages are private so that only your friends can see your routes, show the GPS of the route without the street names, or remove your routes from being posted on social media altogether. 

Lastly, if you don’t feel concerned for your safety as a runner, I encourage you to recognize this privilege and be aware of how you can help other runners to feel at ease in their safe place.

  • Don’t speed past other runners that have headphones in (give them space).
  • If you see another runner is being watched or followed – be loud! Run up near the runner and pretend you know them before letting them discretely know that you’re there to support them in whatever way they want/need.
  • Be there for your running community. If a runner confides in you about a safety concern they experienced on a run – listen actively and ask how you can support. Tell them that it was not their fault. At the end of the day, whether a runner adopts all of the safety precautions listed above or none – experiencing a violation of one’s space in any way when on a run is not the runner’s fault, and it is not okay.

Here’s to safe winter running!