zelticgar

The agony of pedestrian walking patterns

83 posts in this topic

I'll preface this in the beginning by specifying this is a thread from the perspective of an American...

So I've been obsessing for years about how people in Cambridge do not seem to be able to walk on the correct side of the sidewalk. When on the sidewalk you need to emulate the the traffic patterns and stay to the right while walking on the sidewalk. If everyone follows this rule the result is a generally acceptable experience while walking to your destination because you will not have to randomly veer off in one direction or another to avoid oncoming people.  I run almost every morning before work and I am frequently walking between buildings so while it may seem trivial to some, a significant part of my week involves being on the sidewalk in a city. It is maddening to be in situations where you are politely keeping to the right only to find yourself engaged in a game of sidewalk chicken with someone walking towards you who is keeping to the left while you are keeping to the right. I've long held the theory that the primary reason for this common occurrence in Cambridge is due to the large population of foreign nationals coming from countries where driving and walking on the left is normal practice. It is not unusual for a student to attend Harvard, MIT, BU, Northeastern or the other dozens of schools in the area and never actually drive.  I believe they naturally follow the walking patterns that were embedded into their brains at a young age. I have my own opinions about whether they should be a little more proactive about recognizing local norms but I think that is an argument or some other thread. In the grand scheme of things I really am not one to judge considering that i once drove the wrong direction in a roundabout in Bermuda on a moped. I chalk it up to natural conditioning. :) 

The question I am curious about is whether "stay to the right" is grounded in any scientific reason? it would seem that the more common approach when dealing with traffic theory is to stay to the left. I also wonder how did some countries end up on the right and others on the left? Is one side better than the other? I would theorize that more people are right handed and it would make more sense to be on the right side of the road or walking path but I have no idea if that is based on scientific reasoning. Can someone please explain this to me? 

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Growing up in rural Ireland without sidewalks/pavements, the rule was to walk on the opposite side of traffic: cars drove on the left, pedestrians walked on the right.  This was for the safety of pedestrians because a car approaching you from the opposite direction is more likely to see you (because we instinctively notice faces) and because the pedestrian has the chance to see the car approaching and step off the road into the verge if the car is not making enough room for the pedestrian.  Walking in the same direction as the car was more likely to result in you being hit from behind.  This is the only rational rule I've experienced for pedestrians yet.

But generally in America you expect people on a sidewalk/pavement to mimic traffic patterns.  It doesn't really matter which side so long as most conform to one side or the other.  Even without a formal rule, it only takes a small amount of awareness, courtesy and sense to adopt an ad hoc pattern within a crowd.  And most people do in general adopt an informal traffic pattern around them, which I've noticed walking in downtown Chicago and NYC, as well as in airports (best examples of heavy foot traffic).  But lots of self-absorbed assholes and morons pay no attention to the pattern of foot traffic around them nor their impediment to same. 

I don't know if Cambridge is any worse.  Are elite university students more self-absorbed/selfish or unthinking than the average population?

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Posted (edited)

When I was a child I was told exactly the same thing about walking on a road or street where there was NOT a separate sidewalk --pedestrians should walk facing the traffic to be safer. 

It does seem more natural to me, though, to walk on the right when on a separate sidewalk. 

Here's National Geographic's explanation of left vs. right driving:

http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2013/05/31/the-right-and-left-stuff-why-countries-drive-on-different-sides-of-the-road/

P.S. And this seems a much fuller and better article than the above:

http://www.worldstandards.eu/cars/driving-on-the-left/

 

 

Edited by Ormond

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Heh, I had exactly the same thought reading this. If you drive on the right shouldn't you walk on the left? Having said that I've never really noticed any strict patterns regarding whether people consistently walk on the left or the right (even in the US) but when there's a lot off foot traffic people tend to fall into rough lanes.

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Hey , if you live in the city there are no discernable walking patterns. I'm always veering from right to left because people are plowing down the sidewalk as if no one else was there, wherever the hell they want. And don't even get me going about mothers with their baby carriages. They'd just as soon as a kill you, using their babies as WMDs, rather than share the walkway.

And let's not even think about escalators...

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Wait, what? There are places where pedestrians are expected to move like traffic, and stick to a specific side of the footpath? I've genuinely never heard of this. Is it primarily, or only, an American thing?

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Never heard of this either, and having always lived in much more pedestrian-oriented cities than most American ones, at least.

My general sense is that the heirarchy of traffic control obedience generally places the onus of strictly controlled behaviour on the moree dangerous mode and decreasing from there. Cars and trucks must behave just so, particularly with regard to cyclists, pedestrians, playing kids, etc. Cyclicts have more leeway but must mind themselves with regard to pedestrians. Pedestrians just have not to be idiots.

I'd still blame infrastructure though - if people are bumping into eachother on sidewalks, you need a bigger sidewalk, not better people management. Walking is not driving. Take back your streets, people.

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I'm with DP and Arkangel.  The only time pedestrians should orient themselves in relation to traffic is when on a street, not a sidewalk.  On a sidewalk, you don't stop in the middle of the way, and you don't block entrances, crossings etc.  The idea of walking on one side of the sidewalk vs the other is ridiculous.

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People walk just as terribly as they drive on freeways: slow drivers in the fast lane, passing on the right, weaving in and out of rush-hour traffic to shave 30 seconds off their commute, speeding up to not allow merging traffic, failing to properly accelerate on on-ramps forcing traffic to slow down, etc. Simply put, people are either oblivious to their surroundings, inconsiderate, or at worst, assholes. Even worse with all the distractions of modern technology.

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It's reasonably standard in both Poland and Germany (or at least Berlin) to walk on the right, although it's not some hard-and-fast rule and in Berlin it doesn't come up that often because the city's so wide compared to the amount of people in it that it rarely gets crowded enough that it makes a difference (and if it does it's in areas where there's loads of out-of-town tourists anyway, muddling things). It's just how people tend to orient themselves if it does get a little packed. Mostly comes up at train stations, and no-one ever actually talks about it.

 

12 hours ago, Datepalm said:

I'd still blame infrastructure though - if people are bumping into eachother on sidewalks, you need a bigger sidewalk, not better people management. Walking is not driving. Take back your streets, people.


To be fair though there are places where having a big enough pavement to not get it crowded you'd have to knock down the whole city and rebuild it to take up twice as much space on the map.

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Never mind which side you walk on, as long as you keep moving. Don't stop and take a photo of the queue that is blocking the path on the other side of the road or you will create exactly the same problem on this side. It's a queue, they are much the same the world over, it doesn't warrant a photo.

 

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7 hours ago, larrytheimp said:

I'm with DP and Arkangel.  The only time pedestrians should orient themselves in relation to traffic is when on a street, not a sidewalk.  On a sidewalk, you don't stop in the middle of the way, and you don't block entrances, crossings etc.  The idea of walking on one side of the sidewalk vs the other is ridiculous.

You folks must all live in Cambridge :) 

Seriously though, I think you need some fundamental rules around how to behave when walking on a sidewalk with moderate or heavy foot traffic in a city. You may find it ridiculous but we cannot just accept chaos.  The best rule I can think of is to mirror the way vehicle and bike traffic is handled. Otherwise you have situations where you are constantly blocking people and causing issue for everyone else. You are essentially acting like the pedestrian version of the bad driver Astro mentioned. 

I would like you to use this as a teachable moment and from now on get over to whichever side of the sidewalk makes sense for your country. 

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The mass of men lead lives of quiet pedestrianization. 

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9 hours ago, larrytheimp said:

I'm with DP and Arkangel.  The only time pedestrians should orient themselves in relation to traffic is when on a street, not a sidewalk.  On a sidewalk, you don't stop in the middle of the way, and you don't block entrances, crossings etc.  The idea of walking on one side of the sidewalk vs the other is ridiculous.

Dude I love you but please do not come to NYC because we will murk you if you can't manage sidewalk etiquette.

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Walking is like voting: the left is for satanists and other degenerates :) 

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Chattaraj et al, 2009, https://arxiv.org/pdf/0903.0149.pdf

Quote

It is found that the speed of Indian test persons is less dependent on density than the speed of German test persons. Surprisingly the more unordered behaviour of the Indians is more effective than the ordered behaviour of the Germans

(I'm now down the rabbit hole of pedestrian flow modelling, which is hilarious, as its a bunch of engineers who know perfectly well even their vehicle traffic models tend to come out wonky and need to be calibrated to silly human factors, and are now trying to account for such exoticisms as 'people sometimes stroll'.)

 

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12 hours ago, zelticgar said:

You folks must all live in Cambridge :)

And you obviously don't live in Cambridge, England or you'd be obsessing over cyclist etiquette rather than pedestrain etiquette :)

Having said that I've never really noticed any strict patterns regarding whether people consistently walk on the left or the right (even in the US) but when there's a lot off foot traffic people tend to fall into rough lanes.

I suppose the London Underground gets the closest to having a pattern where people should walk on the left.

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16 hours ago, Xray the Enforcer said:

Dude I love you but please do not come to NYC because we will murk you if you can't manage sidewalk etiquette.

You must lose your SHIT when you visit the south.  Walking through the French Quarter is Hell on Earth if you need to be somewhere.  Our tourists are the worst pedestrians and in addition, Southerners are NEVER in a hurry to get anywhere.

 

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13 hours ago, Datepalm said:

Chattaraj et al, 2009, https://arxiv.org/pdf/0903.0149.pdf

(I'm now down the rabbit hole of pedestrian flow modelling, which is hilarious, as its a bunch of engineers who know perfectly well even their vehicle traffic models tend to come out wonky and need to be calibrated to silly human factors, and are now trying to account for such exoticisms as 'people sometimes stroll'.)

 

I am crying laughing.  Do tell us your findings when you are done, professor.

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19 hours ago, Xray the Enforcer said:

Dude I love you but please do not come to NYC because we will murk you if you can't manage sidewalk etiquette.

I live only an hour 45 away, and the Hudson train station is 25 from my door, but I haven't been in the city since 2004.  Have been tempted to paddle my kayak down there and back though 

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