The Massively Important Issue of Sidewalk Etiquette

I walk to work everyday and have, for a long time, been perplexed by why so many people don’t know how to use sidewalks.   The generally accepted method is much akin to how cars and bikes use roadways.  Your path of travel should always be to your right (Anyone wager on how many folks are going to comment about path of travel in, oh say, Britain?).  And as much as I adhere to this principle, I constantly encounter people “hugging” the building line of a sidewalk to their left.  Does anyone know why people are drawn to doing this? Especially downtown at peak hours.  For the most part I’ve begun to hold my ground and just plow into people who are refusing to move.  Hell, folks do it to me all the time.  So in case there are some people out there who are unsure of proper sidewalk travel etiquette, decorum, propriety (all imply observance of the formal requirements governing behavior in polite society), I’ve included the below diagram for everyone to understand how to properly use a sidewalk.



28 Responses to “The Massively Important Issue of Sidewalk Etiquette”

  1. Matt the Engineer

    (considers posting about rude people that plow into me while I walk down the street)

    Although the convention is to walk on the right, there certainly aren’t any rules about it. That being said, I understand your frustration.

    My frustration is with Standers. People that are perfectly able to walk up to an escalator, but just stand there once on. You wouldn’t dream of standing in a narrow hallway blocking people, so why stop on an escalator? I’m sure many of these people waste time and money at a gym when instead they could just keep walking.
    (yes, if there’s room and they obey convention and stand on the right I can walk past them – but there usually isn’t and they often don’t).

  2. Brad

    The reason why poeple often hug the building, even if it means going the wrong direction, is *usually* for climate protection.

    If it’s raining outside, then you often need to hug the building in order to be underneath the building’s awning, where you are protected from the downpour.

    If it’s sunny, then the awning protects you by providing shade.

    I’m sure that this doesn’t explain every wrong way traffic incident that you’ll encounter, but it is at least some explanation…

  3. Brian

    (Hang my his head and cofesses I am often a building hugger)

    But….the reason is my ancient shepherd/rottie mix Max has ALWAYS been a building hugger. I don’t even fight it any more.

  4. Chainsaw Riggins

    I don’t mind people walking on the non-conventional side of the sidewalk as much as I mind the double (and sometimes triple) wide baby strollers that span the entire width of the sidewalk.

    Lazy babies.

  5. joshuadf

    And what are people with twins supposed to do? Move off the sidewalk?

  6. kent

    Great post, let’s keep this one going. Add to the great comments above these especially annoying maneuvers:
    1. Following a group of 4 wide walking down the side walk @ 1 MPH (2X2 would be nice).
    2. Walking toward that wide group of 4 and having to stop to avoid a collision (or… I like to play chicken because they do eventually move).
    3. Any group that suddenly stops in the middle of the sidewalk (move to the side please).

    Good etiquette is basically being aware of what is going on around you, especially when you tlk on the phone.

    joshuadf – walking the twins is ok, everyone understands that one.

  7. brice

    could you do another one instructing people how to ride an escalator? stand right, walk left people.

  8. wes

    Umbrellas! Enough said.

    You think sidewalk etiquette is bad here. Go to Guanajuato, Mexico (the most pedestrian friendly city in mexico). Narrow sidewalk (ya, still the most ped friendly) + oblivious, ridiculously slow pedestrians = take your chances with the taxis.

  9. Renee

    What about the slow walkers and large groups travelling together on sidewalks who span the entire width of the sidewalk so other people cannot pass?

  10. Renee

    Kent – I see you already got that one.

  11. rb

    Why not just get a tazer and taze anyone who gets in your way?

    Ya’ll would have a hellish time in any real city where there’s like, people, and crowds, and you have to actually (gasp!) navigate and move around others, and others have to navigate and move around you. The horror!

    Maybe Spokane is more your speed. There’s no one on the sidewalks during the day to obstruct your linear path, and everyone goes home at 6:00 anyway, so in the evenings you’d have all the sidewalks of the city all to yourself.

  12. Michael

    And what about heavy set people who find it necessary to walk straight down the middle. Anyone for that matter but still. Pick a side.

  13. kent

    rb – I have no problem navigating around people and large crowds that are aware of where they are and what is going on around them. Pedestrian traffic in NYC moves extremely well, because people are alert and aware. It is the comotose pedestrians that think they are the only ones on the sidewalk that I have issue with. Maybe we should taze them.

  14. old timer

    People who live in real cities, and have to navigate the streets as streets, and not as shopping malls, manage quite well no matter the size of the crowds.
    In New York, I can remember lunch time crowds in the narrow Wall Street area where throngs of people went through their daily circuits as smoothly as water flowing.
    And in San Francisco too, people have purpose. They know how to walk and jaywalk with remarkable agility and focus.
    Here, there are a lot who, when crossing a street, don’t even realize they have run out of green light and when they awaken slightly to their situation, make no effort to even pick up the pace let alone sprint to their proper space.
    No wonder the writing of jaywalking tickets is so profitable in this town.
    The opossum pedestrians; I’m afraid they will be a permanent Seattle feature.

  15. Julie

    A tip: if you pursue your chosen path on the sidewalk WITHOUT MAKING EYE CONTACT WITH ANYONE IN YOUR WAY, you won’t have to plow into the clueless crowds. They’ll part like the Red Sea. This is what we do in NYC, my ancestral home. It’s like a game of chicken — whoever looks first has to get out of the way. It works even better in Seattle, where people don’t know how to walk down the street.

    Try it!

  16. rb

    @Kent, “don’t taze me, bro!” Seriously, though, I thought NYC was a gazillion times worse. There are more people, more gawking tourists, more oblivious businesspeople gabbing into their cellphones or typing away on their blackberries. It’s even apparently a hot-button topic there: Google “new york (or manhattan) sidewalk rage”.

    One case even went to court there: “But, in a glimmer of hope for Mr. Jones, the dissenting judge wrote that standing and talking with friends on the sidewalk, “even if it requires other pedestrians to walk around him, is commonplace in New York and not disorderly conduct.” (From “The Law of the Sidewalk, Under Appeal” in the NY Times – the comments are worth reading for a good laugh.)

    Ultimately Seattle just isn’t dense enough for blocked sidewalks to be that big of an issue, maybe with the exception of the Market and 1st Ave at the height of tourist season (and how I wish they would just close off Pike Place to cars!). Try walking through Buenos Aires, Tokyo, Seoul, London or any big, dense city; it requires a substantial amount of navigating the crowd and moving around others; others also have to navigate around you. Our sidewalks, even downtown, seem pretty empty in comparison, and I always enjoy the ample room after spending time in a larger, more crowded city.

    I would advocate tazers at any Seattle Center event. It must be the over-indulgence on elephant ears and giant sodas that seem to put people into a semi-comatose state of half-walking, half-standing. Which is why I haven’t been to Bumbershoot, Folk Life or Bite of Seattle in over a decade.

  17. WB

    For me, the irony in Seattle is that there isn’t the density to match, say, New York. Yet along the widest sidewalks (10 feet or more) at any point in this city, someone will navigate into your chosen path – when they’ve got 8 more feet on their side of the sidewalk.

  18. joykiller

    In areas without sidewalks, it’s safer to walk on the left (i.e., facing oncoming traffic). Perhaps that’s how some folks develop the habit.

  19. sk8tr dude

    i hate it when i’m riding and just trying to pull a 50-50 grind on a bench and people don’t get up for me. what gives?

  20. Futzbuttom

    @ sk8tr dude – maybe it’s because doing a 50-50 grind is the lamest, easiest skateboard move ever. Maybe if you tried doing a reverse 50-50 grind or a front foot impossible, people would give you more respect and move off the bench.

  21. kent

    old timer – You got it. One of the most amazing pedestrian experiences I’ve had was in Manhattan. The coordination and flow of pedestrians, jaywalkers and car / cab traffic was like a perfect symphony. It took some practice and a lot of trust, but it worked well. Except for the tourists of course. They interrupted the flow.

    Julie – I like your idea, I think I will try that “not looking them in the eye” thing. I just hope my first attempt isn’t with a comatose walker and we have a collision. How about walking up on the “wide group blockade” from behind, any tips there? Maybe we taze them, just kidding rb!

    rb – Good points, I agree it isn’t a big problem, just a minor annoyance. I agree with the judge in NY, this is not disorderly conduct, just bad form, caused by not being aware of the world around you. I promise not to taze you, even if you are wide walking, if you leave me and my family alone while we are at Seattle Center events. Deal?

    Peace out!

  22. keith

    This discussion is excellent and I’m particularly taken by the escalator discussion. I often enter my building (Rainier Tower) through the Convention Center and take the byzantine underground path through One and Town Union; this involves up to four escalator rides and the majority are always clogged by standers.

    What about reading while walking? I’m guilty but use discretion. Do I deserve to be robbed by transients (as my small-town Texas father suggests) or hit by an errant truck/bike/motorcycle/taxi (as my wife fears)?

  23. eM

    walking with a pitbull seems to get ppl to move out of the way – altho if they didn’t , she’d love them to death

  24. rb

    @Kent, I’m a fast walker who zips down the sidewalk, so chances are you won’t have cause to taze me. I, in turn, promise not to taze you at Seattle Center. Anyone else is fair game. :)

    On a side note it would be interesting to hear people’s favorite/least favorite ped cities. Mine are Paris and San Francisco, for the density, interesting streetscapes, and central districts that are not totally overrun with traffic. Portland is a nice walking city. I love NYC, but the traffic noise is grating after a while. Buenos Aires and Rome have some great walking areas and are incredible cities, but for the most part if you’re not paying attention, you’re going to die. Not terribly relaxing or easy from a ped point of view.

    Los Angeles, to me, is hell.

  25. Matt the Engineer

    Dubrovnik, Venice, Ljubliana, Istanbul, parts of Shanghai. All have car-free areas (well, for Venice it’s all car-free) with dense populations that make life very enjoyable. I’ll add New York to my list. Traffic noise is painful, but the subway makes getting around so nice that it’s worth it.

    If Seattle had some nice way to connect all of the neighborhoods, it would make my list. Add car-free areas and it might top it.

    Least favorite? Rome. Walking was a bad option, but traffic makes cars useless as well. Datong. A terrible, polluted, car-based city in China that I recommend never going near. Any city in India except Delhi. Delhi is a gridlocked mess as well, but the heavy rail system saves it.

  26. wes

    Mexico City: worst ever. try crossing at a green light, with a ped signal, and continuous turning traffic that couldn’t care less that people are crossing the street. Had someone come within inches of my toes once and when i smacked his car he stopped and was yelling, though didn’t get out of his car, probably b/c he had never had a pedestrian do something like that before.

    Vancouver is awesome for walking (downtown). Don’t get mad, I know everyone says Vancouver is awesome. I can’t help it, it is.

    Much of Holland is good (except Amsterdam).

  27. adam

    having grown up outside NYC, seattle really gets to me, for a few reasons. the lack of adherence to right-side sidewalk etiquette is nuts. also, the two-wide shuffle – two-wide in open stride – come on seattle. no sidewalk anywhere is designed for four people to obviously walk side-by-side. (this surely includes tourists, though.) however, its not my personal pedestrian hell– that honor belongs to paris, with its hordes of nonchalant walking sloths. seattle isn’t great about it either, but is still miles ahead of les parisiennes.

  28. dan bertolet

    The obvious conclusion here is that living at low density makes people dumb, and I’m only half kidding. Same applies to cars: when people get used to driving without many other cars around they get lazy and stop paying attention. A little chaos keeps us on our toes, and is good for the body and soul.

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