27 Sep 2022

Etiquette for Pedestrians

Crowded pavements, texting pedestrians, speeding bikes, electric scooters, wayward dogs, gargantuan buggies… The list of pedestrian hazards is ever-growing. Simply walking along a busy pavement in a town centre can be a frazzling experience, involving countless irritations, adjustments and accommodations.

The main problem is that many pedestrians are unobservant, lost in their own worlds and unaware of the impact of their behaviour on the people around them. The key to good public manners is to engage with the world. Negotiating a crowded pavement without bumping or jostling fellow-pedestrians requires care and attention.

Follow these simple guidelines and make our pavements a better place:

How to be a Considerate Pedestrian

• Pick up your pace. If your tendency is to saunter along at a snail’s pace, you will inevitably cause frustration if people are stuck behind and cannot overtake (exception is of course made for older people, people who use walking sticks, people with small children and so on). 

• Stick to two-abreast. Marching down a pavement shoulder-to-shoulder with a group of friends is an aggressive form of colonisation. There is no room for anybody else, and the result is that oncoming pedestrians are forced to scatter and stand aside to allow the juggernaut to barge past. What could be ruder?

• Mind your mobile. Multi-tasking and thinking all communication too important to ignore for even a few seconds is tempting but self-aggrandising. Realistically almost everything can wait for a few moments. Scrutinising a screen while walking along, especially when wearing headphones, may cause accidents or impede other pedestrians.

• Keep moving. Coming to a sudden halt and standing stock still in the middle of a pavement is clearly hazardous for anyone who is close behind you. If you’ve suddenly opened a revelatory text or had a game-changing brainwave, take a few seconds to sidle over to the side before you lapse into immobility.

• Move aside. If you bump into an acquaintance on the street, move to one side to avoid blocking the way for others. Standing chatting in the middle of the pavement, with streams of pedestrians forced to divert around the encumbrance you’re creating, is the height of bad manners.

• Look out. We’ve all been cut dead on the street by a texting, unfocused, unconscious acquaintance. We know their mind is elsewhere but we still find it a bit hurtful. Try not to be distracted, look at the faces of those around you, engage with your environment, and you will avoid cutting friends dead and being reproached for your unfriendliness.

• Keep dogs on a short lead. Never use a lead that stretches across the width of the pavement, or you will risk entangling pedestrians’ legs. It is important that you keep your dogs under close control on crowded streets, so there is no risk of them jumping up at strangers.

• Be perceptive about pushchairs. Some pushchairs are the size of small tanks and manoeuvring them through crowded streets is quite a challenge. Parents should be hyper-aware of the pace of pedestrians in front or they risk getting too close and barking their ankles. Two pushers abreast, deep in conversation and oblivious to the world, carry all before them, scattering pedestrians as they go. This behaviour is only tolerable on exceptionally wide pavements.

• Be a considerate smoker or vaper. With smoking banned in public places indoors, smoking on the street has become a common practice, and smokers are frequently joined by vapers, whose presence is advertised by billowing clouds of vapour. Smokers and vapers should make sure they congregate in places where they won’t form a major impediment to other pavement-users. It goes without saying that littering the street with cigarette ends is anti-social.

• Beware brollies! If you’re wielding an umbrella, you need to be spatially aware and have some regard for height differences, or you’ll risk poking passing pedestrians in the eye. If you find yourself head-to-head with a fellow umbrella-user, adopt the following strategy: the person on the inside edge should move closer to the wall/buildings, while raising their umbrella to avoid collision; the person on the outside lane should lower their umbrella and edge towards the road.

• Resist grazing. It was once considered the height of bad manners to eat in the street, and it should still be approached with caution. We are seduced by a cornucopia of street food in our towns and cities, but if you can’t resist indulging, it is a good idea to try and find a bench or seat, or at least to stand to the side of the pavement while you are eating. Munching as you walk along is yet another distraction that might impede your movement and awareness.

• Remember, pavements are for pedestrians. While we all accept that pushchairs, wheelchairs and mobility scooters are also entitled to use the pavement, people on bikes or electric scooters should be using the roads or designated bike lanes. If, for any reason, a cyclist is forced to use the pavement, they must behave with the utmost discretion. This means cycling slowly, and giving way to slow-moving walkers. It does not mean hurtling at full speed down the pavement, ringing the bell or shouting obscenities at pedestrians. This behaviour is not only offensive, it is illegal.

• Bin it! Whether you’re eating, drinking, or smoking, it is absolutely imperative that you dispose of all rubbish properly. That means holding on to it until you can find a rubbish bin, and if necessary taking it home with you. Many of our town centres are defiled by litter dropped by inconsiderate pedestrians, so don’t contribute your own rubbish to the blight.

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