Throughout our travels, our most frequent mode of transportation has been walking. We often debate the unwritten rules of the sidewalk and wonder why walking in some foreign cities can be so challenging!
My assumption has always been that the flow of pedestrian traffic on sidewalks should mirror the flow of road traffic. If cars drive on the right side of the road then pedestrians should walk on the right side of the sidewalk. If cars drive on the left side of the road, then pedestrians will stay on the left side of the footpath. When passing people, again the rules of the road apply. Where cars drive on the right side of the road, slower traffic stays right and cars pass on the left. And visa versa, where cars drive on the left, slower cars stay left unless passing, then you do so on the right. It sounds so logical and simple, right? Then why do we find ourselves constantly doing that awkward shuffle with oncoming pedestrians, trying to figure out how to avoid a head on collision?
My observation is that, more times than not, in countries where people drive on the right side of the road, you will find pedestrians walking on the right side of the sidewalk. However, in countries where cars drive on the left side of the road, walking on crowded city streets is an absolute nightmare. It feels like a constant game of “chicken.” Each person keeping their stride, staring the other person down, trying to see who is going to bail and give the other the right of way before the head-on collision occurs. The larger the city the more frustrating it can be to walk down the street.
I am sure there are many flaws to my theory of unwritten guidelines for pedestrian walking. Although most people know the rules of the road, how many people actually follow them? I mean, how many times have you sat behind a car going slow in the fast lane? Some people are clueless, some think rules do not apply to them, while others just simply do not care. Maybe the same is true when it comes to pedestrians.
It seems that I am not alone, many people have wondered (or ranted) about the rules of sidewalk walking. Maybe it is all the tourists that cause the confusion, as they tend to not pay attention and drift when walking? Or maybe there really are not any true fixed guidelines for walking. If only there was a universal code that everyone followed, so that we could all keep our own pace on busy city streets without constantly having to swerve to miss oncoming pedestrians. Until then, I guess a girl can dream about a world where universal walking guidelines prevail.