Essays · Strangers

Getting Around on Foot

The first draft of this essay was started about five minutes after I finished an eight mile run. It was a sunny but chilly day, early enough that the streets weren’t packed but not so early that I had any expectation of empty sidewalks and parks. About 1.5 miles into my run, I was on a fairly narrow bit of sidewalk with some inconveniently placed trees and light posts. As convention in the UK would suggest, I was running on the left, but aware that I might need to move should someone be coming towards me and not paying attention. In the distance I saw a couple walking on their left, and a man running. The man was ahead of the couple, but for some reason running on the right, not the left.

Instead of moving to his left as he saw me coming towards him, he starts to speed up and screamed at a level so loud that it hurt my ears “GET OUT OF MY LANE.”

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First off, there aren’t lanes on the sidewalk. But second, he said it with such anger that I was genuinely frightened. He was a tall, beefy white guy who no doubt could have knocked me out, and who seemed to be mad enough that he wanted to do just that. My only response was to sort of gasp as I threw my hands up in the air.

I spent the rest of my run being pissed that this guy had been SUCH an asshole, but it also got me thinking more about what it means to be a good pedestrian — both when running and when walking. I observed my fellow runners and walkers, noting what made things more challenging and more pleasant. So today, I give you my tips for how not to be a jerk when getting around on foot.

Runners
We move quicker than other pedestrians (and some other runners), and we need to be aware of that. Yes, it’s annoying to have to stop our training or go at a slower pace when trying to build up stamina and strength, but realistically if you want a perfect, no obstacle running environment, join a gym and use a treadmill. I personally hate running indoors, so I recognize that there is a trade-off, and that means we have to deal with red lights, oblivious pedestrians, and bicycles on pavements (which is legal in some places but in my mind so ridiculous and dangerous). Parks aren’t often big enough to do a long run without getting extremely bored, so that means we’re going to be out on the sidewalk. So, things to keep in mind:

  • We don’t have any more of a right to the sidewalk than walkers. Now, they don’t, either, but as annoying as it might be to have to dodge someone who moves unexpectedly, they get to be there too. No use getting huffy about it.
  • It can be jarring to have someone come up behind you and pass you, especially if you’re out for a walk on a loud street and don’t hear footsteps, so try to start letting them know when you’re still far away. They might be a little confused by the person yelling “on your left” from a distance, but that’s better than giving them a heart attack when you’re a foot away.
  • Even if you’re where you think you should be (e.g., on the left in the UK, or the right in the US), if you can move more safely and easily than the people coming towards you, just do it. Now, if I’m out for a walk and someone else is obliviously walking towards me looking at their phone, I might not move out of their way immediately (especially if they’re a guy, because guys just seem to act more entitled to be in my space). But running? People can get hurt if I run into them. I can get hurt if I run into them. It’s not worth it.
  • Slow down if you have to; your personal best time isn’t worth a broken ankle or chipped tooth. I know it can be annoying to really be in a groove and then come upon a crowd of pedestrians who could not be paying less attention if they were asleep. But you just need to slow down to a jog or even a walk and get through safely. I fell the other day because instead of slowing down as I approached a pedestrian I just tried to dodge her. Tripped on some pavement, skinned my knee and bruised the palm of my hand. Not great.

Walkers
It’s great to explore a city on foot. Even just walking a couple of blocks to the grocery store is a nice treat, as you don’t have to deal with traffic. But being a pedestrian comes with some responsibility as well; just as runners don’t own the sidewalks, neither do you. Consider the following when you’re out in the world, taking in the scenery:

  • Sidewalks are often narrow. If you are walking with friends, you need to move into a single file line (or two by two, depending on the sidewalk width) when you see people coming towards you. If you’re a couple and you think the pavement can fit three across, still get in single file when someone is coming towards you. Don’t make the oncoming walker or runner squeeze next to a wall or nearly run into a tree because you don’t want to briefly interrupt your conversation.Also, realize that people may be walking or running up behind you, so always try to leave some space for a person to get by, even if you can’t see them.
  • Don’t walk in the middle of the sidewalk, even if it’s wide, and even if you’re alone. Someone coming up behind you won’t be able to guess if you might start to drift to the right or the left, making it harder for them to get past you safely. This applies whether you’re by yourself, pushing a pram, or with friends. Pick a side and stay there. Related: don’t wander. I’ve seen so many people talking on the phone, having a chat, enjoying the afternoon air, making figure eights on the sidewalk without realizing it. That’s not just annoying; it can be unsafe and even force people out into traffic depending on how narrow the sidewalk is and how noise-canceling your headphones are.
  • Look. Up. From. Your. Phones. I get it. I look at my phone (or a book) when I walk. But you know what I have? Situational awareness. I look up often. I walk in a straight line. I put my phone down when I’m approaching an intersection or crosswalk. The other day I was running in a park and folks were playing a game (I *think* it was Pokemon-adjacent). Five of them were taking up the entire width of the path, and none of them were looking up from their phones. I slowed down and said, sternly but without shouting “Please look up from your phones, this isn’t safe” as I made my way around them.
  • Keep the leads for your dogs short and close to you. In parks it’s a different issue, because many owners keep their dogs off leash. It’s a serious hazard for me as a runner, but I understand that and so go slow around dogs. On sidewalks it’s a bit scarier, as many people use those leashes that retract and are very thin and long, so they can be hard to see. The number of times I’ve nearly tripped over a leash where the distance between the dog and the owner is four or five feet is pretty high, and it’s always scary, because I don’t want to hurt the pup either. So be aware that your dog should be kept close to you.
  • If you’re in high-traffic areas, especially areas where people like to take pictures and selfies, get out of the way. Get as close to the edge of the pavement or the side of the bridge. The middle of the bridge sidewalk on a Saturday afternoon is not the place to stand for ten minutes figuring out where you’re getting lunch. Step off to the side to get your bearings so other walkers and runners can go about their days.

Okay. Go out, get some exercise, be safe, and for the love of god, don’t fucking scream at your fellow humans. Good grief.

2 thoughts on “Getting Around on Foot

  1. There’s a whole other hidden essay here about sidewalk-owners and being cognizant about trimming bushes (from the top, too! b/c tall ppl) and shoveling snow.

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