Runners will hit Lexington’s streets next week for a 24/7 marathon. Here’s why

Safety tips for pedestrians

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates 32 percent of all pedestrian fatalities occur between 8 pm and midnight. Here are a few simple tips to help keep yourself safe while walking near traffic.
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National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates 32 percent of all pedestrian fatalities occur between 8 pm and midnight. Here are a few simple tips to help keep yourself safe while walking near traffic.

The streets of Lexington will be dotted with hundreds of neon green-clad pedestrians all next week — from before sunrise Monday to after dark Sunday and every moment in between.

The runners and walkers will be fitness buffs and young children, beginners and marathon junkies, but they will all be there for the same reason: to advocate for safer streets.

They want to log more than 6,000 miles in honor of the thousands lost on U.S. roads in 2018 alone.

The 24/7 marathon follows tragic loss locally. In the last two years, fitness groups in the town of Lexington have experienced major blows. Two runners, John Flanagan and Dianne Wells, were killed on separate dates after being struck by vehicles while out for a run.

And so out of tragedy, a small, energetic movement was created. The local groups sprung into action and created SAFE Lexington — the acronym standing for “Streets are for everyone.”

“Pretty quickly, people started saying, ‘Enough is enough,’” said Bridget Winston, a runner and founder of the committee.

Shortly after 36-year-old Wells’ death in December 2018, 11 representatives from various exercise groups and local high-school track and cross-country coaches made a list of grievances.

SAFE Lexington wants to make runners and cyclists more visible — cue the neon green t-shirts and illuminated vests — but the members also want infrastructural change and investment in sidewalks, running and bike lanes and trails.

“There’s plenty of land around here” for a trail, Winston said, so why can’t the town or Lexington County make this a priority? She and other SAFE members look to cities such as Greenville and Mount Pleasant, where they have seen many pedestrian trails and paths.

Dianne Wells (2).jpg
Dianne Sullivan Wells, 36, was fatally struck while she was on a run with her Lexington County FiA group in December 2018. Photo provided

The group’s first step was getting the people with political ties involved, so they could effect actual change. SAFE members appealed to Lexington town council member Hazel Livingston and on May 6, the town declared May 13-19 “Runner Safety Week.”

Two dozen runners and supporters showed up to the meeting, as well as Lexington County Coroner Margaret Fisher and state Rep. Chris Wooten, a Lexington Republican.

Livingston, Fisher and Mothers Against Drunk Driving staffer Kimberly Cockrell will help kick off the 24/7 run at 5 a.m. Monday. They will run with Flanagan’s wife, Rebekah, who was affected by both her husband’s death and the loss of Wells.

SAFE Lexington set up an online sign-up sheet for volunteers.

“It filled within 24 hours,” Winston said.

Now, the sheet is open again so runners and walkers can bring along friends and family.

The runners will trace a route about two miles long on Main Street. It will begin and end at Radius Church. The goal, Winston said, is to log 6,227 miles to honor the thousands of pedestrians killed in the United States in 2018.

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Member Gary Blight came up with the idea for the “24/7 safety run.” He said SAFE Lexington didn’t just want a forgettable weekend morning race — it wanted pedestrians to be a constant, attention-grabbing presence.

“If we’re going to do something memorable, you’ve got to do it big,” Blight said.

Blight, 39, has been in the Lexington chapter of national fitness group F3 for two years, but he is also a member of Running Lexington, a cycling group and he is a coach of a Run Hard group at an elementary school. He helped train Wells’ daughter Maya for a 5K run.

He said he felt especially drawn to the project because he’s been struck by vehicles twice while cycling. The most recent incident occurred Easter weekend, at the same intersection where Wells was killed, in front of Lexington High School. He blacked out when he was hit, Blight said, and weeks later, still struggles with a back injury, impacts to his legs and a cast on his right forearm and hand.

Blight could have been a statistic, and that fear has pushed the group to speak out and make demands.

“We felt like we couldn’t waste anymore time. We’ve lost two friends and we don’t want to lose any more,” Winston told Lexington town council members.

Isabella Cueto is a bilingual multimedia journalist covering Lexington County, one of the fastest-growing areas of South Carolina. She previously worked as a reporter for the Medill Justice Project and WLRN, South Florida’s NPR station. She is a graduate of the University of Miami, where she studied journalism and theatre arts.