Ladyguide: How to Not Suck at Being a Pedestrian

Walking. You’d think, with it being one of the most basic forms of human movement, that people wouldn’t be so baffled by it. Every day, though,  an alarming number of people prove that they JUST DON’T GET IT. “Come on; there can’t be that many people who don’t know how to walk,” you might think. It seems so simple. Well, go to a mall. Go on the subway. Walk on a sidewalk. And then report back to me about how many stupid morons you wanted to chuck into oncoming traffic.

Malls, for example. Malls are useful; they can even be fun (if you don’t work in one; trust me). They do provide a number of pedestrian obstacles, though. Like escalators. Escalators should be easy. They’re moving stairs. You step on, they move, you end up where you need to go. Judging from most people’s reactions to escalators, though, they might as well be goddamned alien transport devices, never before seen on Planet Holy Shit You People Are Stupid.

Subways and sidewalks? They’re a special hell for city dwellers, who are just trying to move about their lives, dodging clueless tourists and inconsiderate jerkwads, trying to make it through the day without killing anyone in a fit of unchecked rage.

Let’s take it step by step and see if we can’t work out a reasonable code of conduct for being able to locomote through life, using your own two legs as transport, while not being a total and complete asshole.

  1. Escalators are moving stairs. They move. The people on them move, even if they’re standing still. So when you reach the top of an escalator and JUST STAND THERE, not moving out of the way, people will pile up behind you like bottles on the broken conveyor belt at the soda factory. Keep your ass moving once you’ve gotten off the escalator. Coming to a dead stop and creating a traffic jam makes you a jerk.
  2. Escalators can be scary and overwhelming for children and stupid adults. If you or your child can’t figure out how to step on or off the escalator, and no one in your group is willing to assist so that the process is completed in a reasonable amount of time, take the damn elevator. It is not cute to have to “tread” escalator steps, stepping down and most likely crowding someone else on another step, because your special little snowflake is taking twenty minutes to step off the escalator because they’re scared it’s going to eat them, and you won’t help.
  3. Walking shoulder-to-shoulder with your group so that you take up the entire width of a sidewalk is an asshole move. You force other people to either have to step in a gutter to get past you, or to walk at an unnaturally slow pace because you’re shooting the shit, oblivious to the fact that you’re taking up the whole sidewalk. If you take up the entire sidewalk, you are a jerk.
  4. Similar to escalators, do not just stop walking in the middle of a sidewalk when you’re surrounded by people. Get your head out of your ass and move to the side.
  5. Stand right, walk left. Let me repeat that: stand to the freaking right, and walk to the freaking left. This applies to escalators, moving walkways, pretty much anything that is itself moving and also has people who are likely to be in a hurry to get somewhere. If you do not intend to walk as you approach your destination, stand to the right. If you are hauling ass to catch your train or flight, stay to the left. The main problem with this rule is that the walkers know it (they stay to the left!), but the standers don’t (they stand wherever they feel like it!). So you get a nasty clusterfuck of commuters in a rush and tourists ignorant of every single thing happening around them.
  6. Doorways are, well, doorways. They are narrow openings through which people must pass. In busy areas, many people pass through them in a short period of time. Therefore, stopping dead in your tracks in a doorway or directly on either side of one causes the aforementioned bottleneck clusterfuck. Proceed through the door and keep moving. Stopping in doorways makes you an asshole.
  7. If you are visiting a big city, chances are you want to walk around, look at things, see the sights. That’s great! Tourism is a vital part of any city’s economy. Please keep in mind, though, that people still live and work in these cities. They are not on vacation. Just keep that fact in the back of your head as you’re walking at a pace of approximately three feet per hour, oohing and aahing over adorable things in store windows and reading fascinating street signs and puzzling over your unnecessarily giant paper map. People need to move around you, and they need to do so with some urgency. Be aware that you aren’t blocking someone’s path on their way to their office, or to catch their bus. A courteous tourist is a tourist who is welcomed back.
  8. A word about strollers. I get it, I do. They’re necessary. What is not necessary, though, is ramming into people with them. Running over people’s feet. Using them as weapons to push your way through an otherwise orderly situation. Committing any sort of assault and either completely ignoring the fact that you did it, or excusing it away because you are just so goddamned important that everyone else needs to get out of your way or be mowed down by your Parental Assault Vehicle. Aside from being a terrible example for the child or children accompanying you, it’s dangerous, and it’s concrete proof that you’re a self-absorbed jerk.
  9. When in doubt, keep moving. It’ll save everyone a whole lot of aggravation.
  10. Keep your eyes open, your arms and bags close to you, your feet moving, and your common sense active. Be polite, and have some concept of spatial and situational awareness.

This post originally appeared (with considerably more cursing) at Nice Girls Don’t Swear.

21 replies on “Ladyguide: How to Not Suck at Being a Pedestrian”

Umbrellas! I recently moved to a rainy city, and proper walking etiquette with an umbrella is tricky…I’ve been stabbed in the neck and shoulder multiple times. I know it’s miserable to walk in the rain, but remember that there are other people around you!

Amen! I work in Chelsea and huge fucking masses of tourists tend to congregate on street corners near my office, making it impossible to walk on to or off of the sidewalk. That’s my pet peeve, especially when there are huge puddles of filthy water at every crosswalk.

Or people who huddle before and after the metrocard turnstiles, waiting for everyone to figure out how to swipe. Especially when I’m late to work/can hear my train arriving.

I would like to add: when enjoying your rush hour, finally-done-with-work cigarette on your way home, do not vigorously swing your cigarette holding arm. There are people behind you and/or passing you, and they do not want to be burned.

Other than that, this is spot on. My personal pet peeve is definitely people who can’t adhere to the stand right/walk left (or: walk slow right/pass left on the sidewalk) rule. It’s not that hard, presumably most of these people have driven a car in their lives, why can’t they make those rules translate to walking? That one drives me batty.

I had to smile when I read this post because I have those very same frustrations and I live in Cape Town! Over here the general rule is “keep left, pass right” but other than that the experience is pretty much the same.

I do so much mental swearing that sometimes I think people can tell just by looking at me.

I will never understand why so many people think it’s ok to loiter in doorways and by the escalators. Is there something fabulous happening there that the rest of us don’t know about? Are they handing out free unicorns to a few lucky loiterers?

Don’t jaywalk if you’re not familiar with the area. Just because you see a local dart across Michigan Ave. against the light doesn’t mean that you and your big group of slow walkers should follow. The local probably knows the intersection well enough to cross without stopping traffic. You, however, are just being a lemming, and you are going to endanger yourself and others, and cause a big traffic jam.

One of the first things my parents told me when I moved to Montreal was, slow on the right, fast on the left. Everyone there understands this, except for university students/tourists. This isn’t Stars Hollow people! Ambling is NOT ACCEPTABLE.

Oh, and people who walk in groups, see you coming and don’t go single file will have thier souls eaten by hamsters in hell. Don’t try to force me into the muddy, slushy street and I won’t glare and deliberately walk into you.

I work on for a large university. I think a freshman course should be taught on not-being-a-jerk-while-walking (also: bus riding, but that is another issue). The slow walkers, the 5-abreast (and running you off the sidewalk), the stopping-in-the-middle-and-talkers, but my god, what gets me the most are the texters. You can pass/move around everyone else (like a rock in a stream), but the texters– they weave back and forth! They vary their speed! They walk into people! And then they stop texting and act pissing that people are passing them. Grugh.

Students will be the death of me. Other proposed learning requirements:
How to Drive: A refresher, since driver’s ed was, like, 2 whole years ago.
How to Avoid Pedestrians while Driving: Please don’t kill me on my walk to work
How to Park: I like my car, even if you don’t care about yours
How to Get Through the Damn Cafeteria in Less than 20 minutes
Your Phone and Walking: As Bad as Drinking and Driving
Bicycle Safety: This is NOT your parent’s cul-de-sac

STAND RIGHT WALK LEFT yesssss. I wish this were written on the “Welcome to Toronto” sign as tourists came into the city. I can’t count how many trains I’ve missed because I have suppressed the urge to screech “Stand right walk left!!!!” to the dozens of people laden with shopping bags, scattered all over the escalator.

Also, when did strollers turn into small vehicles? I remember the stroller my sister bought when her babies were young, and it was about 1/3 the size of the SUV strollers I see now.

I’m a very aggressive pedestrian. This, for some reason, surprises people.

But if you’re walking slow for no reason? I will definitely cut you off and relish it, biyotch. (Yes, I know, some people can’t help but walk slowly. They also generally know this and keep all the way to the right or otherwise don’t blatantly block everyone’s paths.)

I love how everyone has gone CAPSLOCK SERIOUS in the comments.

Persephone Magazine: We’re not afraid to give the internet what for.

I’m like an elderly power walker at the mall, on the few instances I can bring myself to go there. People get exponentially slower as the number of friends walking side-by-side increases. There is surely a fancy algorithm which explains this. CORRIDORS ARE FOR WALKING. FOOD COURTS/BENCHES ARE FOR CHATTING. STFU or STFD.

They really should make shirts with STFU or STFD on them; in fact, I may just make one myself and wear it when I enter a mall. I still have residual hate from high school for malls, so my m.o is always “in and out”. Apparently, cutting people off and glaring when they don’t take a hint to MOVE is rude. They have no idea how rude I can get!

Yes. Agreed. One additional one: if you are walking on a two-way thoroughfare, such as a sidewalk, and you suspect that the person moving toward you is going to end up playing chicken with you? Both of you should move to your right (like vehicles, see?) to pass without RAMMING INTO ONE ANOTHER. I never had a problem with this in Seattle, but San Franciscans seem to have an issue with this one, like, let’s see who we can get to move out of our way! UGH.

You forgot one of the most annoying things ever! When you are walking and someone is walking in the opposite direction on a narrow sidewalk or hallway and you need to step to the side to go on; MOVE TO THE RIGHT! Just like when you’re driving a car!* It’s easy to remember and avoids that little time wasting ‘shall we dance’ routine!
*this may be different in left hand drive countries, my apologies for being American-centric

Thank you, POM, thank you. People who stop at the bottom of an escalator or just beyond annoying. It’s dangerous. My other favourite are the people who stand still on those flat moving sidewalks at the airport. Those things are designed to make you move faster, not so that you can take a little break on your way to you gate. WALK on them, don’t stand still.

Word to all of these. I lived in London a while and one of the things I loved about it was that EVERYONE understood standing on the right, walking on the left on the numerous subway escalators. Except tourists; it was always exceptionally obvious who wasn’t from there. And even on the streets; I knew that I had settled in when tourists started doing this thing where they would kind of huddle up behind me to follow me when I walked to cross the street.

I definitely had a culture shock when I got back to NY after months in London. I was like, “why are these people standing on the left not being screamed and cursed at? why is this being tolerated?” The drawback to London though is very slow sidewalk walking when compared to NY. I guess no city is perfect.

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