My grandmother is nearly 80 and has never driven a car a day in her life. Everywhere she needed to be, she could walk. And everywhere we went with her on the weekends we’d stay overnight, we’d walk, too. To the pool in the summer, the park in the spring and fall. (We weren’t walking anywhere in Chicago winters…)
Since moving to New York, I’ve thought of her often as I walk everywhere. I haven’t missed my car for a single moment. If anything, I relish in a good stroll, and a single destination often turns into meandering down a new street or into a new neighborhood. Just today, I walked Central Park Zoo (admittedly, it’s a small zoo) and then criss-crossed the lower part of the Park for another hour, just for the sake of walking.
Much as I enjoy the time on my feet, walking in this city may also be the single most frustrating endeavor I endure every day. Now that I’m navigating sidewalks and intersections as part of daily life, I notice the horrible pedestrian etiquette of nearly everyone in this city, and it cannot go unrecognized any longer.
First of all, sidewalks are like roads for pedestrians. That means keep to the right, and keep further to the right if you’re going slowly. There are days I get to work feeling dizzy, I’ve had to zig zag my way back and forth through so many people just the one block from my subway stop to the office. Keep. To. The. Right.
Pick a pace and commit to it. If you’re going to pull out your phone to read a text or change the song you’re listening to, by all means, feel free. But do it at the same brisk pace you’ve been walking at for the last two and a half blocks or I won’t feel bad about slamming into the back of you like a car at a red light. (The exception here is tourists; I get the temptation to stop in your tracks and gawk at something. You can barely go two steps without a reason to. But seriously, you can still step to the side while you take your picture.)
Think narrow. Strollers in this city are amazing. They’re built for city walking, especially strollers for two. Practically no one has a standard two-seater; instead, they look more like this. If you’re walking with a group, even just three of you, please don’t walk side by side. Not only are the sidewalks not wide enough for this to be possible, but I will barrel through you if I’m coming in the opposite direction and you don’t rearrange to allow for space.
Personal space is a good thing. New York’s pedestrians seem to have missed this memo, and instead will elbow past you while knocking your bag off your shoulder, or walk between you and the edge of the subway platform, so close you can smell them, rather than go behind you where there’s six feet of space to the wall. Please. Grant me a little personal space. I’ll reciprocate.
Crosswalk signals are not gospel. Please do not treat them as such. Don’t go walking into oncoming traffic either, of course. But don’t look at me like I’m the crazy one when I start crossing an otherwise empty 54th St. on the Don’t Walk signal.
I have enjoyed a summer full of walking around the greatest city in the country. I’ve seen beautiful skylines and eye-catching architecture. I’ve noticed quiet moments between friends, and witnessed full-on shouting matches, too. I’ve smiled at more dogs, giggled at more kids as they go by than I can remember. I love walking through my day, being so connected to the city as it rushes by on the sidewalk beside me.
Just please keep to the right.