Monday, January 29, 2018

How To Walk

While the Fab-4 are properly demonstrating how to use a crosswalk, they would be inconveniencing people a lot less if they weren't walking single-file at this point.

You'd think walking was a simple thing.  We learn it at an early age and it stays with us for life.  Few people need lessons in how to walk, unless they are incapacitated by accident or illness and need to go through rehabilitation therapy.   Of course, there are some trendy yuppies who are buying these walking "sticks" (a trend that seemed to fade quickly) that look like ski poles and taking lessons in how to hike.

But daily walking?   Well, people just assume they know how to do it - just as they assume they are good drivers, when in fact they suck.   And maybe bad driving habits start with bad walking habits.   After all, a pedestrian is just someone who has parked their car.

This struck me the other day when I was driving to the art gallery.  They moved the museum to temporary quarters near the gallery and two ladies had parked their car and were walking to the museum.   Easy enough, right?  Well, the road is narrow - barely two lanes wide - and these ladies for some reason decided to both walk facing traffic, on opposite sides of the road, each about four feet from the edge, leaving me just enough room to thread between them.

Why they were walking like this was a mystery to me.  I slowed down as I approached them, and they glowered at me, as if to say, "How dare you drive an automobile on this roadway designed for automobiles that we just drove our own automobile down?"

And it struck me that people really don't know how to walk, at all.  They don't know the "rules of the road" so to speak, so as to walk in a manner which is safest for themselves and more convenient for everyone involved.

So I figured, I'd better lay down the rules, since no one else has.   And here they are.
1.  Walk Facing Traffic When On The Road:   In America at least (I don't know how they do it in the UK) we drive on the right hand side of the road but walk facing traffic on the left side.  This rule does not apply to bicycles, which are vehicles and ride on the right side of the road.   Walking while facing traffic is a good idea, as if you see a car coming toward you, you can step aside and avoid being hit - that is the idea, anyway. 
2.  Keep Right, Elsewhere:  When not on a roadway, however, most people walk on the right - just as we drive.   And in fact, on most bike paths, there is a sign to this effect - both bicycles and pedestrians keep to the right, with bicycles overtaking pedestrians on the left.  The same is true on escalators and moving walkways.   You keep right and let people pass on the left - they put up signs saying this, but few read them.  In corridors and on sidewalks, it is also a good rule - and most people seem to follow this instinctively.  Walk on the left and you are constantly plowing into people.
3.  Face Your Direction of Travel:  Walking backwards or sideways is a sure way to collide with others, or fall down an open stairway.   And yet, I see many people do this.  Two secretaries coming back from lunch are talking.  One turns to take the elevator, and the other continues the conversation with her friend by walking away, backwards, raising her voice as they separate in distance.  I guess she wants to continue the conversation and get where she is going, so she walks backwards.  It is like texting-while-driving.  Take your eyes off the road and you run into things.   And inevitably, the backwards or sideways walker plows into somebody or some thing (parking meters are a bitch!).   Just watch where you are going, and if you want to chat, then stop and chat.   Stop trying to multitask!
4.  Cross Roads at a 90 Degree Angle:  I touched on this before - people want to cross a busy road to get to their car, and decide the quickest way is to cross at an oblique angle of 45 degrees or less.   In some ridiculous circumstances (that I have seen!) the person ends up walking down the road for nearly a quarter-mile, most of the time in the center of the roadway, oblivious to the cars lined up behind them, gunning their engines.   Not only does this inconvenience other people, it is downright unsafe.   Cross perpendicular to the road and limit the amount of time you are in the road.   Then change direction and walk toward your car.  It may take a little longer, but it is far safer as you spend less time in the roadway.
5.  Walking Abreast:  We all like to walk and talk, and a long walk with a friend in conversation is a great thing.   But on a busy street or sidewalk or bike path or corridor, it is not only rude, but dangerous and inconvenient.   When you walk abreast, you block the path for others - people coming the other way and people wanting to pass you.  It is akin to riding the left lane in your car, never passing that truck in the center lane.  It is rude and inconvenient.  If you are walking abreast and see people ahead of you or behind you, move to single-file until they pass.  And if you are walking in the road, go to single-file or get off the road - or you might get killed.   And yes, I see people, often with kids, walking two, three, or four abreast in the roadway, expecting motorists to stop and follow them at a walking pace.  It is madness.
6.  Choke Points:  This is more of a standing than walking issue, but for some reason, it is human nature to stand at a "choke point" in a corridor, sidewalk, or entryway.   They say that at any house party, everybody always ends up in the kitchen.   I would amend that to say, everybody always ends up blocking the kitchen doorway.   For some reason that I cannot fathom, it is in our nature to stand and chat at the one part of the hallway that is constricted, or is an entryway or doorway.  In the grocery store, two people decide to chat right where the store decided to drop a mid-aisle display, so that their carts and bodies block further movement.  Ditto for parking shopping carts - it is instinct, I guess, to park them in the narrowest part of the aisle.  Never park yourself a the choke point - it is rude.
7.  Baby Buffer:  Using your stroller as on offensive weapon is distasteful on a number of levels.   Your baby is in there for starters, so when you decide to ram people with your stroller, you are using your child as a human shield.  And nowhere is this more true than at crosswalks.  I've seen, over and over again, Mothers and Fathers thrust their strollers - with children inside - right into the path of oncoming cars, in order to make the car stop so they can cross.  The lives of their children are apparently secondary to their need to get somewhere.  It is a variation of the "I have a baby, ergo I am special" mentality.  Your baby is indeed special, you, on the other hand, aren't.
8.  Use the Sidewalk:  When there is a sidewalk, walkway, bike path, or other type of walking path that parallels the main road, use it.   For some reason, there are folks who think that the sidewalk is not for them, and insist on walking in the road, often with traffic instead of facing it.  When it comes down to you versus a 4,000 lb car, the car always wins.   So I am not sure why people do this, other than to be annoying or because they have a death wish.  I've seen people walking in the road, with traffic, eschewing the sidewalk a mere feet away, and then suddenly move into the front of a speeding car, for no apparent reason whatsoever.   Trying prove a point?  Or maybe it is just Darwin culling the herd?  For whatever reason, I simply don't get it.
The list goes on and on, but you get the idea.  Pay attention to where you are going and what you are doing and accommodate the needs of others.  A lot of people are injured every year - some seriously - just from walking.   And it is not the walking that hurts or even kills them, but the tripping, falling, and colliding.  And as you get older and older, walking becomes more and more dangerous to you.  A simple fall at age 70 or more can lead to months if not years of rehab, if you break your hip or pelvis.

And a lot of these bad walking habits come down to passive-aggressive games.   People pretend not to notice where they are going, for example, so as to make you change your path (They win!  But what?).   Or the pedestrian who speeds up or slows down their pace with one thing in mind:  To intercept the car at the crosswalk so as to make them stop.   Again, they win, but what?

And yes, I realize that my rules for walking will fall on deaf ears.  People, particularly in tourist towns, tend to move with Brownian Motion more than anything else.  In fact, that is how you can spot a tourist, just about anywhere - they are looking up, looking behind them, looking to the side of them, looking everywhere except where they are going.   And that is why it is so easy for thieves and pickpockets to spot and victimize tourists - they sort of announce themselves to the world as rubes, much as someone does, making eye contact on the subway.

UPDATE:  I should mention also that walking backwards is a no-no.  It is a great way to plow into someone or something (parking meter, speeding car) or just trip and fall and smash your head.  Want to look at something?  Talk to someone?  Stop and turn, but don't keep walking backwards. It inconveniences others and is just plain stupid.   YouTube has plenty of videos of people walking backwards into parking meters or tripping on highway medians or curbs.  Dumb!