Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Walk This Way

September 16, 2010 · 2 Comments

I am not a city person at all–my hometown has maybe four stoplights, and I’m used to having to drive twenty minutes to get anywhere worth going. So the whole business of having to fight through a crush of humanity in order to get a sandwich is completely new to me (beyond standing in line for the wok up at Dickinson).  I enjoy walking, but having to stop every thirty seconds because someone has cut me off, or bumped into me, or stoppd short in front of me does not qualify as actually walking. It’s more of an exercise in agility. Not a fan. What really bothers me, however, is the fact that there seem to be no established traffic patterns for pedestrians here.

In my experience, pedestrians normally stick to the unspoken rules in the States–you walk on the right side of the sidewalk, you try not to walk through if someone is taking a photograph, and when hiking the people going up step off the path to let the people coming down through. So you would think, “Okay, people drive on the lefthand side of the road here, so they probably walk on the left, as well.” Well, you would be right about one-third of the time. The second third walks on the right hand side (where I tend to walk, out of habit), and the last third just books it down the middle of the walkway. According to Kate Fox, the English seem to love little rules and social regulations, so why haven’t they figured this out for walking in London? Maybe if everyone adhered to the same traffic patterns, people wouldn’t run into each other so much. But then we’d all lose the chance to say, “Sorry!” so often.

Since this has been bothering me for a while, I’ve been thinking about possible explanations and doing some experimenting. Whenever I’ve been out walking by myself, I’ve tried to walk like a Londoner. Sunglasses, iPod, staring straight ahead, long stride. . .and go. I’ve realized that if I just focus on a spot ahead of me and walk like I’m going somewhere, I have no problems. People actually move out of my way. I was walking to the British Library the other day, and someone actually stepped off the sidewalk to let me go through. So maybe Londoners themselves have this whole walking thing figured out, and it’s the tourists that causes all of these traffic fiascos. I still haven’t figured out whether or not there is a determined side that people walk on, but it seems that walking with purpose is enough to get from A to B without too many “sorries!” Maybe that’s the only way to get through the sea of tourists.

Categories: 2010 Holly

2 responses so far ↓

  •   stepheniem // Sep 16th 2010 at 19:33

    I’ve noticed this 3 lanes of pedestrian traffic tendency, as well. It struck me as odd today when it happened in the Underground walking between lines, as it was clearly labelled “Keep Left.” Apparently left is a relative term and one that is always in motion… It’ll be interesting to see at Norwich how people manage the sidewalks- especially during class changes.

  •   Elizabeth Barr // Sep 19th 2010 at 08:03

    Seriously! Sometimes I just want to yell at people “PICK A SIDE”! We try to obey what we’re told are the established social rules – staying to the left, that is – and we get nowhere!

You must log in to post a comment.