Walk This Way

Crowded_StreetI walk–more or less–the way I drive. I stay on the right, pass slower moving people in front of me on the left, and do a lot of passing. I am not particularly patient about people who–for lack of a better term–walk while rude. I wish I were more patient–it would make me happy to be more virtuous. But honestly.

What constitutes walking while rude?

  • Walking in a group that spreads across the width of the street, forcing people coming up behind them to slow to a stop, and people coming in the opposite direction to pull over until the crowd passes.
  • Stopping in doorways, at the top of stairways, at the top or bottom of escalators. I have no problem with people who stop in the turnstile to get into Muni or BART–if you’re not used to the system, confusion is understandable.
  • Streaming across a street, ignoring the cars that are waiting to make a turn. This one drives me particularly crazy: the war between drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians is particularly fierce in San Francisco, but SF has a lot of streets without traffic lights, and there’s a tendency for pedestrians to act as if giving a car a chance to play through is giving quarter in the battle. At least once a day I stop at a corner and wave a car or two through; and sometimes a pedestrian coming up behind me will charge right into the street–don’t let that car through or the Terrorists Will Win. Sigh.

This last form of incivility I find particularly irksome. Why can’t we all just get along?

Illustrative Anecdote: about ten years ago I was chaperoning a high school field trip. The gaggle of tenth graders stopped at the corner on the way to BART–except for one kid who forged across the street–despite the fact that there was already an SUV already in the intersection, bearing down on him. I grabbed his hood and pulled him back. He wheeled around, confounded: “What?” I pointed out that the SUV might have hit him. “They can’t. It’s against the law.” I, dumbfounded, pointed out that the law of physics trumped those of mankind, and that he might well be killed. “Well then my parents would sue!” “AND YOU’D STILL BE DEAD!” (By that time I had veered from impatient to outright cranky.)

I am no saint. As I’ve said: I’m impatient. I want the people lost in abstraction over their phones to get out of my way–or at least keep to the right, in what in driving would be the slow lane. And yet I look at my phone (worse, I read and walk, and have for years). I do try to stay out of other people’s way, but I am weak and very human, and sometimes fail.

When I find myself being judgmental about other people’s walking manners, I try to remember that I often fail to meet my own high standards. I’m attempting humility. Still, if you see a woman charging through the streets yelling “keep to the right, dammit!” that’s very likely to be me.


About Madeleine E. Robins

Madeleine Robins is the author of The Stone War, Point of Honour, Petty Treason, and The Sleeping Partner (the third Sarah Tolerance mystery, available from Plus One Press). Her Regency romances, Althea, My Dear Jenny, The Heiress Companion, Lady John, and The Spanish Marriage are now available from Book View Café. Sold for Endless Rue , an historical novel set in medieval Italy, was published in May 2013 by Forge Books


Walk This Way — 12 Comments

  1. It has become my observation over the years – I’m well past the allotted three-score-and-ten – that people in general have become more and more self-absorbed/self-righteous and less and less concerned about the general welfare. I believe one cause is that as we have allowed more technology to worm its way into our lives, for our ‘convenience’, we have gradually become more and more short-sighted and really pretty dumbed-down in general.

  2. You didn’t mention my particular pet peeve: people on crowded sidewalks or open areas who refuse to change their pace or otherwise allow for those using walkers or canes, or for obviously frail people holding on to someone else’s arm. Don’t they realize that people who need assistance with walking are both more prone to falling and more likely to hurt themselves seriously if they do fall? It is possible to slow down enough to pass such folks with jostling or startling them.

    • There’s a senior center on the corner of the street where my workplace is located. Every now and then I see a guy on what we used, in my youth, to call a skateboard, zipping through the crowds–and around the elderly men and women who make their way through the neighborhood. All it would take is one mis-step or stumble and it could be really tragic.

  3. Re “Streaming across a street, ignoring the cars that are waiting to make a turn”- I don’t know about San Francisco, but here the walk lights give barely enough time for the fit to make it across the street, and heaven help the handicapped. The drivers who insist on turning immediately rather than allowing pedestrians their brief window of opportunity to start the crossing — and the lemmings who keep coming and coming and coming until there’s no hope even for sprinters — are the folks who need lessons in common courtesy. Since yes, one would prefer not to be squashed under heavy vehicles who check only for other vehicles before turning, I can’t tell you how many times I have had to wait through multiple signals before a driver let me into the cross-walk. Violators of pedestrian right-of-way are supposed to be ticketed, but it’s not exactly an enforcement priority.

    Yep, you hit a nerve there.

    • In California, pedestrians have the right-of-way and most drivers comply with the law, even in San Francisco. When I lived in DC, I used to jaywalk all the time, because of the kind of behavior you describe. It was easier and safer to cross mid-block — after checking for traffic — than it was to try to use the crosswalk.

      • My experience in California is similar to Nancy’s. Coming from a mid-sized city where pedestrians were rare (and therefore invisible) my new town was a change, and mostly for the better. As impatient as local drivers can be with other drivers, they’re pretty nice with pedestrians. Admittedly we don’t have the huge packs of pedestrians that Madeleine describes so it’s unlikely that a driver will be inconvenienced for long.

        I mean, okay, if it weren’t legally mandated things would probably be different. And I still consistently make sure I’ve got the eye/acknowledgment of the driver in the front of the queue before crossing, just in case.

    • It’s at the corners with no lights where a little give and take would be nice. San Francisco is designed in many places as a driver’s city; the law favors pedestrians. The unfortunate result is that some pedestrians seem to have a “I’ll see you in hell first ” attitude toward any situation in which give it would be polite but is not required that they give way.

      Some years ago I got a very expensive ticket because I made a right turn at a greenlight–entirely legal–but there was a crowd of high school students on the left-hand corner of the street who were standing with their backs to the crosswalk, spilled over into the street, talking as teenagers are wont to do. As far as the law was concerned I had driven through a crosswalk with people crossing. The kids who saw me get the ticket laughed. And stayed right where they were.

  4. And then there are the people who walk walk in back of your car just as you are backing into a parking space -from a tight heavily trafficed road thus trying for a Darwin award and bolluxing the traffic in one fell swoop.
    I have noticed that almost no one looks left and right before stepping out into the street even if they aren’t focused on the cell phone!

  5. Cyclists who don’t use a bell to warn pedestrians that they are racing up behind them at unholy speeds. Not all of us can hear that whoosh-whoosh of their wheels as they speed past. Cyclists in general, who don’t think the rules of the road apply to them, especially on sidewalks, where, technically, they aren’t supposed to be in the first place, or on narrow, winding boardwalks which are clearly marked with “cyclists must dismount” signs.

    And it’s rarely the youngsters who are the offenders. They’re the ones who use their bells, and keep respectfully to the sides. It’s the Lance Armstrong wannabees in their spandex pants who make me want to poke sticks between their spokes and send them over the handlebars…

    • I once watched an elderly woman walking about 100 feet ahead of me on a New York City sidewalk stick her cane into the path of an adult bicyclist who was on the sidewalk. NY (at the time, at least) was cracking down on anyone over the age of… 7? 10? riding on the sidewalk (food delivery people were the worst, but not the only offenders). The cyclist did not launch over his handlebars–in fact, I am not sure that the cane and the bicycle made contact. But he stopped and yelled at the woman that she scared the crap out of him. And she cocked and eyebrow at him and said, “How do you think I feel?”