Sidewalk Crosstalk

What we really need are rules of the road for pedestrians

Some more new signs have popped up around downtown. What's most noticeable is that they're in the middle of the street. They remind drivers to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk. While I applaud the message, I'm not a big fan of slapping up additional signage in an area already experiencing a glut. And though I'd like to think they provide an additional level of safety for people on foot, most of them developed tire tracks across them within days of going up. That says a lot about how much people are paying attention.

Drivers can be rude sometimes. I'm not talking about interacting with pedestrians here. I mean about courtesy and respect for fellow motorists. A classic example is the driver who ignores the "lane closed ahead" signs (5,000 feet, 1,000 feet, 500 feet) and zips past the line of cars who have grudgingly queued up already, only to cut in at the front of the line.

But pedestrians can be just as discourteous. As downtown sees more foot traffic, it's becoming apparent that the sidewalks lack just as much etiquette as the streets.

There are essentially two types of pedestrian traffic. First, there are those en route to a destination and simply trying to get from Point A to Point B. They're not generally pausing to look in store windows, read a poster, or chat with friends. They're like commuters on the highway. They are on a mission. Then there's the more recreational traffic that is out for a leisurely walk, maybe visiting downtown for shopping, a show, or just to take in the city. The latter group is the equivalent of the Sunday driver. And like their highway counterpart, they are often regarded as a nuisance by the former.

One of the more common and irritating phenomenon are side-by-side groups, usually walking slowly and taking up the entire sidewalk like gunfighters in a spaghetti western. It's bad enough when you come up on a lumbering herd of them from behind with no room to pass. It's even more irritating when they seem oblivious to oncoming traffic. I've had to actually stop on more than one occasion just short of a head-on collision with a row of them, only to have one look at me like I'm standing in their way.

Then there are the congregators. These are the impromptu groups that find the center of the thoroughfare an ideal place to stop, chat, and take up the entire sidewalk. A lot of times, they are accompanied by children who, sensing a lack of supervision, orbit the group like satellites, adding another layer of complexity to navigating around the cluster.

Don't get me wrong. One of the most pleasant things about the urban experience is unexpectedly running into friends and catching up. But if it's more than a passing "hello" you need to get out of the way.

I have learned to steer clear of people with strollers. A lot of them use strollers much the same way locomotives use cattle catchers to clear their path. Formerly a practical means of child transport, many of today's models are more akin to SUVs, with massive cargo capacity. And though some of the multi-passenger models are inline versions, I have seen them with two and three seats abreast, resembling a bulldozer equipped with theater seating plowing down the sidewalk.

Downtowners love their dogs. And for whatever reason, visitors to the city often like to bring their own as well. When dog and master are tethered together, it's usually okay. But when the owner wants to window-shop while the dog is allowed to wander off to sniff the planters, the 15 feet of Flexi-Leash strung like a clothesline across the sidewalk is not okay.

Any and all of the above are only complicated by one of the most commonly cited highway hazards: cellphone use. Anyone who has any question about whether texting should be allowed behind the wheel need only dodge an ambling pedestrian frantically pecking away to understand how oblivious people can be.

There's nothing common about common courtesy or common sense. There needs to be more etiquette both on the roadways and on the sidewalks. But people are people, whether they're behind the wheel or walking down the street.

It would be nice if folks would apply a few rules of the road to sidewalk use: slower traffic keep right; no oversized loads; no parking in the middle of the road. And it would also be nice if drivers obeyed the laws they ought to know about crosswalks before being given a license. But I'm not going to hold my breath on either count.

If only there were some way to remind people that the sidewalks, like the streets, are public thoroughfares and need to be kept unobstructed. Maybe if we just put up some signs... no, wait.