26 March, 2007

The Pathway Code - Part 1: The Basics

Following the huge success of my series on driving in Queensland, I now tackle the problem of the heavy traffic on the pavements* of our cities. This is part one of a two part series. More tomorrow.

Of course, what consenting adults do to each other in their own homes is between them and their local security agencies. It’s when they’re out in public that they need to be controlled. I’ve given up hoping that the behaviour of motorists can ever be improved. I think that most motorists just simply want to kill people and that’s all there is to it. Instead, I’d like to try to get some order into the way people on foot use our streets. That’s why I’m proposing a code of conduct for pedestrians: The Pathway Code.

The idea is simple. Using a pavement as a pedestrian may not be as lethal as using a road as a driver but it is damned irritating to be barged into, to have your way blocked and to be trodden on every time you step into the street. People just don’t seem able to control themselves or to show the kind of civility and consideration required on our busy streets. I generously assume that it’s because they are all stupid and ignorant rather than that they are deliberately malicious, so I therefore propose a set of simple rules, that even the thickest could follow, to ensure that walking through a city street becomes more like walking in the country and less like trying to make a fifty-yard run against a psychopathic rugby team.

The Basics

First we’ll tackle something simple: walking in a straight line down a straight pavement. Sadly, most pedestrians cannot manage even this. So this is how you do it:
  • Walk in a straight line at a constant speed.
  • Do not stop suddenly to tie your shoe laces or to ponder the meaning of Life. Do not weave from side to side like a drunk. Do not stick your arms out sideways to point out interesting sights to your friend. Do not start walking backwards for any reason.
It would probably be a good idea to mark out lanes on pavements to guide the feeble-minded and make walking in a straight line easier for them. Anyway. Having mastered this, we can go on to the other basic skills: like turning a corner. The universal rule is this:
  • If you’re going to deviate from a straight line, look over your shoulder before you do to check that you’re not going to barge into somebody.
This is a deceptively simple technique but sadly lacking from most pedestrians’ repertoires. Surprisingly, it isn’t adequate on its own to prevent collisions. What is needed is an additional rule:
  • If you see someone that you might collide with, or who might have to take evasive action if you turned in front of them, don’t do it.
I’m sure you’ve seen it. You’re walking along the pavement and the person in front of you decides to turn. They glance over their shoulder and see you and they can tell at once that if they turn, you’re going to fall over them. Then a look of bovine idiocy suddenly blanks over their features as their feeble brains give up the attempt to cope with this simple problem and they turn right into you.

Finally, in this section on basic rules, we must consider the one that almost everybody gets wrong: standing still. This causes endless problems and I’ve seen appaling examples of sloppy standing still as far apart as London and Los Angeles, Brisbane and Bangkok, Ottowa and Oslo. Again, the rules are straightforward.
  • Only stand still where you will not be in the way.
  • Do not stand still in the middle of busy streets—especially in herds of five or more. Do not stand still in doorways. Do not stand still in the middle of narrow passageways while you read your map or look in your shopping bag for your purse. Do not stand still in the entrances to subways or bus stations. Do not stand still in turnstiles, however confusing they may be—step aside while you ponder the mechanism, watch a few people go through first, then, when you’ve got the hang of it, progress straight through.
Stepping out of a shop seems to have a completely paralysing effect on many of our more intellectually challenged pedestrians. They take one step into the busy thoroughfare and then seem to be hit by instant brain death as they stand, gazing blankly about them. This has the threefold effect of causing pedestrians on the pavement to have to swerve around them, forming a small crowd of people on the pavement who are trying to get past them into the shop, and creating a blockage inside the shop of people trying to get out.

So, that's the basics. Go out and find yourself a quiet place to practice. In Part 2, we tackle the hard stuff.

(*American readers should keep in mind that the rest of the English-speaking world speaks English. In English, 'pavement' means 'sidewalk', 'road' means 'pavement' and 'shop' means 'store'. But don't worry, if you can just bear with it for a few more years, we'll all be speaking American anyway.)

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