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Walking: It’s Just Like Driving (The Proper Way To Use Sidewalks And Walkways)

yellow walking sign against the horizon
Image CreditAaron/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Let’s talk about something that really matters in this country: people who don’t know how to walk.

Not the disabled and legless. I mean the functional bipeds who, either by lack of spatial awareness or simple sheer stupidity, fail to navigate moving in public spaces and thus really screw up nature’s flow. And it’s not solely a matter of speed. It’s about etiquette, safety, and, most crucially, efficiency.

I enjoy my life, and every second of every day is important. What I don’t want to spend any of that time doing is wasting it because too many people can’t maneuver a sidewalk or walkway.

Setting slow walkers aside — that they haven’t been weeded out by natural selection is the theory of evolution’s greatest gap — there’s a lot more to commuting by foot that too many people ignore, interrupting my day and the days of countless others. It doesn’t have to be that way. There are four easy, logical rules that make walking a smooth and seamless process.

First, the fundamentals of driving can and should be applied to walking in public. Look both ways when crossing. Check over your shoulder before veering left or right. Pull off to the side for extended idling. Leave yourself an out in the event of an unexpected maneuver or stall by others (a.k.a., give everyone his or her personal space).

Just like highways, sidewalks and public walkways, as in a shopping mall or airport, are shared spaces. Many people use them at once, especially in big cities and during business hours. And just like highways, they require users to be mindful and alert of one another, so as to avoid collision and ensure the steady flow of traffic.

Second, and in that vein, stepping onto a sidewalk or walkway should be viewed the same as merging onto a major highway. Abruptly swinging out with your face pressed into your phone screen and with no regard for oncoming people is both rude and dangerous. Runners use sidewalks, too, and are liable to slam into a distracted individual who steps out without first checking. And after merging, it’s just as bad to obstruct oncoming walkers by either standing in the way or moving at a slower pace than those who were already in motion.

Third, walkers traveling in pairs or groups aren’t entitled to more space or consideration. Footing it with a partner or several friends shouldn’t mean fanning out so all parties can comfortably see and hear each other while commuting.

Remember, others unaffiliated with a potential group will still need a path to walk themselves, and it shouldn’t be incumbent upon them to maneuver around a row of people spanning the width of the walkway. File into a line to let others pass from the front or behind. Otherwise, you risk checking shoulders with strangers due to your own negligence.

Fourth and finally, all pets, children, and belongings should be kept at close range and positioned so other walkers may pass as unimpeded as possible.

Simple, right? Walking isn’t hard. Yet so many people have no idea how to do it.

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