Having spent more of my life in New York City than anywhere else, I believe that I am suitably qualified to speak as an authority on the protocol for transit in close proximity to other people. While there is nearly infinite amounts of ink to be spilled over the informal (but no less important) rules for driving – as anyone who has ever driven or at least been in a car in New York City will tell you – this is not the focus of this article, here we will focus on walking.
This article is much more simple than that.
How to walk like a reasonable adult, and why you should.
My focus here is on how to walk when you are not the only person on the Earth. As we are a people who tend to gather together, insofar as the United Nations reported in 2016 that 54.5% of the world’s population live in cities, and that by 2030 it will likely be closer to 60%, it seems incumbent upon those who traverse cities, or even towns, hamlets, villages, settlements, or campuses, to have a basic understanding of walking in such a way that does not make those around you hate you.
THE CARDINAL RULE OF WALKING IS THAT YOU PROCESS ON THE RIGHTWARD SIDE OF EVERY PATH SUCH THAT:
A) ALL OF THOSE APPROACHING FROM THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION, SIMILARLY SITUATED N THEIR RESPECTIVE RIGHT SHALL HAVE THE LARGEST BUFFER;
B) THOSE SEEKING TO OVERTAKE YOUR POSITION AT A FASTER CLIP HAVE THE MAXIMUM PASSING LANE TO YOUR LEFT.
Why the right is right.
Presumably, the association with keeping to the right was on the basis that the right hand was the traditional instrument of weaponry (drawn from the left side) and, as such, walking to the right would give one a tactical advantage as their draw would be across their body (closing their body target) as opposed to away from their body (opening their body target). The present practicality of such methodology remains admittedly limited, although we require a universal
orienting direction and right is as good as any.
This in no way explains driving in Australia, the UK or India. I will save British colonization for a separate article.
Move. Get out the way.
Due to my time in New York, and generally having places to go and things to do, I am, admittedly, a relatively fast walker. This is not to suggest that everyone need keep up with me, except that while the rest of the world retains the right to shuffle their way off this mortal coil, I have every intention of walking expeditiously and, as such, will more than likely be passing people upon the road of life; and such, require that the slower of the pack stay to the right and provide ample passing space to their left.
Rules for ingress and egress.
When approaching a door, the first person to reach the door (congratulations) has the obligation to hold the door for all of the people in the threshold, unless of course they are exempted. Examples of exemption include the infirm, the elderly, people carrying bulky packages, young children (provided that they are young enough that we do not consider them children), winner’s of a Nobel Prize, heads of State, and Bill Murray. Similarly, when there are multiple people in the threshold, the easiest methodology for determining which non-exempt person should open the door is to follow a simple ranking system: “Who among this group looks the most like George Clooney?” By this, I genuinely do not seek to be sexist, except to say that we have to come up with a means of deciding who should open the door and so let’s just assign it to men insofar as it gives us men a little bit of an opportunity to feel like we are acting like George Clooney (would).
Any woman who is concerned about the abdication of authority over a man holding the door open for them should employ this empowering technique for establishing equality in the interaction” say “thank you” to the person holding the door open. He is holding the door open for both sexes to walk through and while it is true that the obligation to do so has been arbitrarily assigned to his gender, the weight of the authority conferred by this post entitles the male
privilege to a two-syllable gesture of acknowledgement for taking a second to not block other people’s way. Similarly, any man holding the door open for a man, or any woman who, upon reaching the door first, holds it open for a man, is similarly entitled to this platitude. Returning to the classification system of George Clooney, the group need simply (and immediately) decide who among them looks the most like George Clooney and that man holds the door open.
If you have a particularly large party, and by that I mean eight people or more, and you are walking through a door held by someone you do not know, the fifth, non-exempted, person to reach that door has become nominated as the “Relief Door Holder” and is obliged to step out of line and switch places with the person who was kind enough to hold the door for your party. The signaling method for this is to suggest to the person holding the door, “please, let me”. Nothing else needs to be said other than by the Precedent Door Holder a “thank you” for being afforded the opportunity to surrender his post with honor.
In the alternative, if you do not do this you simply do not deserve those seven friends with you.
Other communal traffic laws of good order.
Other things of note: absent imminent peril, there is no reason to shout on the street. Imminent peril ranges from “you dropped your wallet!” to “watch out for that bus!”. If there is no threat of death then there is no imminent peril and you should stop shouting immediately. Really.
Alternative and acceptable communications include the following:
If you have a message to convey to another person on the street, and do not know them, perhaps close the distance and then share. Appropriate examples of this include walking by a stranger in a certain set of sporting attire and on the way past them in a firm but neutral voice share the thought “the Yankees suck” as you stride past them. As a faithful reader of the wedding section of the New York Times, I can assure you that I do not ever recall seeing “He Shouted About That Ass; She Hollered Back” (incidentally, if this is ever published as a NYT Wedding Announcement, I will happily withdraw my objection).
Do not ride your bicycle on the sidewalk. If you cannot manage to bike where there is a bike lane, figure out how to keep to the rightmost side of the road. Do not skateboard down the sidewalk. Upon reflection, you probably should not be skateboarding anywhere. This also applies to rollerblading and definitely applies to anyone on a Segway, or worse, a Segway knockoff.
When you are walking in a group, you are to only take up enough horizontal space that is proportional to the amount of total space given e.g. if you are walking down a path that is sufficient to comfortably fit four people across, you are entitled to take up no more than two lateral places. Think of this as the “Golden Rule” of group walking: “do not take up more space on your side than another group, taking up similar space on the other side. Despite every inclination, it is my expectation that when encountering people blocking my path from the opposite direction because they are walking together with no regard for the space they are taking up that they are NOT seeking to play an impromptu game of Red Rover. To the extent that, henceforth, people continue to take up the whole pathway as a group despite my oncoming advance, I must only assume that their intention is for Red Rover, Red Rover Send Alex Right Over and will indulge them in kind. Walking as a couple, holding hands, is a particularly advanced move that requires keen situational
awareness as there is an almost certain probability that the relationship will be shorter than the length of my enmity for those who choose to walk blissfully through the streets blocking passage for everyone else. That said, there is an exemption for the person walking down the road linking each arm with someone of the opposite gender. This person is clearly playing at a different level and way ought to be made for them.
On the basis of the aforementioned guidelines everyone should be able to find their way through this world with a bit less trouble. Good luck, and God speed.