I was recently discussing with my coworker after his return from a visit to Canada about how skinny the sidewalks are there. Between house steps, fire hydrants, and utility poles, there was barely room for an able body person to get by, let alone a person in a wheelchair. I acknowledge as a civil engineer that my profession probably has more small talk about sidewalk widths than the average person’s, but I think we’ve all been on a crowded sidewalk with no room to move. In engineering, we would call this a level of service D maybe even F, but in real life I call it fucking annoying. Why? I’m glad you asked because I would like to school you on some common sense sidewalk etiquette.
As a pedestrian it is easy to think that you always have the right-of-way – AKA – everyone else has to yield to you. This is not always the case, such as when you are jaywalking or when you encounter another pedestrian in your path. In these cases you must use common sense in order to avoid a collision with your fellow walker. By following these simple rules for waking in a city, we can all arrive at our destinations with minimal hassle.
1. Walk in the same direction you drive
There many rules of the road that we all have come to accept. Its only common sense to apply some of these rules to sidewalks. Here in America, we drive on the right, as such, most people would also walk this way. When another walker is opposing you, step to the right. Simple, right? Apparently not in Australia. Now in the land of Oz, they drive on the left. So you would think people will also walk this way. But no, when I was in Aussie, I thought I was doing the logical thing by stepping to the left when someone was on the same route as me. But no matter what I did, it seemed someone would inevitably bump into me.
2. Form single file
Out for a walk with your friends? That’s lovely. I really want you to enjoy your walk as much as I am enjoying mine, but not at the expense of mine. If your group is spanning the whole width of the sidewalk, and someone comes from the other direction, for the love of God, please form a single file line so everyone can get a piece of the sidewalk action. Or even on a bigger sidewalk, pair up in twos until the other guy passes. I swear, I am one bad day away from to plowing right through the middle of pedestrian groups who think they are above this common practice. Same goes for slow walkers going the same direction – leave some room to pass. Which brings me to…
3. Slow walkers stay to the right
Slow walkers- just like in a car, stay to the god damn right. Its obvious that you have no sense of urgency, but can you please step to the side and let those of us walking with a purpose get by? Some of us have places to be and people to see. I’m about two seconds away from stepping on your shoe if you don’t pick up the pace. Do us all a favor and stop strolling in the center of sidewalks. Come on, no one likes a shoe flat tire.
4. Step to the side when stopped
There are lots of great spaces to stop on a sidewalk; the center is not one of those places. When your friend said “Let’s meet on the corner,” I don’t think anyone one means on the dead center of the sidewalk. Please, if you need to pause and orient yourself, or tie your shoe, or wait for your slow walking friend to catch up, or just decided to randomly stop mid-stride, PLEASE step to the side. Please? May I suggest: leaning against a pole, or that void between a newsstand and fire hydrant, or under the shade of a tree, or pulling over to a stoop to tie your shoe, or even consider sitting on the curb if it’s going to talk a while. All these places are great for standing but not walking. Make the most of those lesser used areas. Thanks.
5. Look up from your phone
Apparently this city in China has actually implemented a cell phone walking lane for real after seeing a social experiment done in DC with this idea. May seem like a great idea, but it is not. Let’s not try and work with stupidity. Some cities are even considering laws against walking and iPhoning. I don’t think we need these laws, but can everyone please just be fully aware of their surroundings, especially when walking around a city? If you do need to be distracted by your phone, may I suggest you read my suggestions of where to stop above?
6. Keep dogs on short leash
Did I mention being aware of your surroundings? That includes you and your dog. Control your dog around strangers. Be the master. Don’t let it go wherever it pleases. It displeases many. Believe it or not, not all people like dogs, not all dogs like other dogs. Not even the biggest dog lover wants to be tripped up by a leash. Keep your dog close when passing others. Those retractable leashes have got to be the worst invention ever. And pair that with an oblivious Snapchatter… don’t get me started. Narcissistic dog owners is a rant for another day.
7. Electric wheelchair match walking speed
I am all for powered wheelchairs that improve the mobility for those who can’t walk. But can we get a governor on these things? They really need to match the speed of walkers. We all want to get where we are going as fast as we can, but the way some wheelchairs whiz by can be downright dangerous. I am very fortunate to be able to walk around town with minimal hassle (even less so if we all start following these rules), and I shouldn’t complain, I just want a level playing field for all of us.
8. Practice bicycle common sense
I probably could write another whole post about bike etiquette, but let me focus on the topic of sidewalk etiquette. I’m going to take it easy on bikers, since I myself am guilty of riding my bike on the sidewalk. Listen, there is a time and place where you can ride on the sidewalk guilt-free. Wide open sidewalk with no people, feel free to escape speeding cars on the sidewalk. But a busy center city sidewalk is no place for a biker. Much like the wheelchairs above, match your speed to the walker until you have a chance to squeeze by. The great thing about a bike is that you can always hop off and walk. Remember, the pedestrians have the right-of-way on a sidewalk. So don’t you dare ring your bell at someone following the rules when you are breaking them. Also, all you walkers on a bike path, don’t throw shade when a biker gives a courtesy ding ding. And obviously, ride on the street as much as possible; bikes are vehicles and your rightful place is on the street.
9. High-Low Umbrellas
No one likes walking to work on a rainy day. You know what makes it worse? A selfish person armed with an umbrella. The reason they are called golf umbrellas is that they are meant for the wide open fairways of a golf course, not a crowded sidewalk. I’m nearly inclined to suggest we all buy good quality rainsuits and give up on the umbrella all together. But that is not a realistic request. If I may propose a realistic request, when I go low with my umbrella, can you go high? Or if I lift my umbrella over yours, can you adjust accordingly? And let’s be mindful of our drip zone.
10. Have empathy
This whole list is really just one rule. Have some empathy for the people around you. Have respect for someone else’s pace and comfort. Use common sense, and realize you aren’t the only guy using the sidewalk. With a little self-awareness and awareness of others, we can all happily share the same space. There is a psychological term called mirroring, where our subconscious mimics other people’s actions. We can bump into a stranger in a busy train station, and automatically match strides with another without even being aware of the change. Mirroring builds empathy. If we follow this rule, and the other rules outlined above, we can all figure out a flow that gets us where we want to go with as little hassle as possible.