HOW TO WALK IN A CITY
It may seem like walking down the avenue of a busy metropolis is the same as tromping through a cornfield or strolling through the cul-de-sacs of your suburban housing subdivision but I can assure you it is not so and if you do not up your game very quickly you may get killed possibly by me.
- •Forget everything you've seen on TV or in films.For some reason the media image of a savvy city dweller is an inattentive dickhole who walks three abreast on the sidewalk to have wildly gesticulating conversations with friends and dashes two lanes into traffic to hail a cab. These people are actors on closed sets. Extras are paid to put up with their bullshit. Stunt drivers are paid to avoid running over them. Real human beings who act like this will be murdered, intentionally or not, within a week. Real city dwellers are polite by necessity.
- •Look in the direction you are moving.Navigating sidewalk traffic requires a syncopated ballet of eye contact and body language between pedestrians and motorists. If you are not participating you cause a little knot of confusion that fucks up everybody's flow. Everyone else has to figure out where you're going, Mr. Magoo, and how to avoid you. Do not walk backwards to say a last goodbye to your pals. Do not look at your phone, a book or a map as you walk. Do not look at the tops of large buildings. Eyes front, soldier.
- •Use sound and peripheral vision to maximize your situational awareness.Watch where you're going, but know what's happening behind you, to your sides, farther down the block. If you get surprised by a runner coming up behind you, or a hand truck coming out of a store, you're going to stop, cause a cluster, and slow down everyone else. Know what's going on around you and make a plan.
- •If you need to stop or slow down, move to the side to let others pass.New match on Tinder? Sudden brainstorm? Not sure where you're going? Move to the side (near the building or near the street) and let others pass. Doorways and other spots out of the flow of traffic are optimal, but just making room and signaling to others that you're out of the flow of foot traffic is more important.
- •Do not walk more than two abreast.If there are three or more of you, somebody walks behind. Otherwise, you're blocking oncoming foot traffic and preventing anyone from passing you.
- •Do not try to keep a group larger than three together.Big groups are slow -- slower than the slowest person. They have a lot of coordination overhead. If you have a big group, let it straggle out in groups of two or three down the block. That lets others pass you, minimizes coordination, and keeps interrupts for a single person (call from mom! Gotta go to the ATM!) from stopping the entire group. Ideally, don't try to regroup before you get to your destination. Don't cluster at every intersection. Just let everyone move at their own pace.
- •A stroller, hand truck or a person with a big package counts as two people.Don't walk next to your mommy pal who bought the extra-mega-huge two-up Maclaren. You can either talk walking single file or save it for the café.
- •Do not cross against the light.I know, this is your ideal of the savvy urban pedestrian, dashing across on the red light. It is a bogus stereotype. If you cross against the light, you mess up the flow of car traffic, which messes up foot traffic. You also have to work your way through the crowd stopped on the opposite corner. The overhead of figuring out when to go is totally not paid off by the few seconds you save running through traffic. It makes everyone mad.
- •Do not jaywalk.Similar to crossing against the light. You're going to block car traffic and bike traffic. If you elicit a horn or brake squeal, all your situationally-aware fellow pedestrians have to slow down to figure out what's going on and determine if it's a hazard. Again, your saved time will almost definitely be zero, and it will probably cost you time. Oh, and you might get killed. Walk down to the corner and come back.
- •Enjoy audio entertainment.Yes, long walks in the city can get tedious and we all have super-short attention spans. Reading, games and video are all unsafe. Instead, listen to music or podcasts. Don't turn it up so loud that you can't maintain the all-important situational awareness or respond to a question at normal volume. If you are enjoying audio entertainment you are less likely to get impatient and seek false shortcuts like jaywalking.
- •Be nice.Keep your cool and don't get angry at people who can't manage the city-walking task very well. Getting angry at them won't speed them up; it'll just slow you down. Everybody is just trying to get along as best they can. Just concentrate on doing your own job well.