Cross walk

March 18, 2011 | Cities, Housing, Infrastructure, Speculation, Transportation, Walking

By: David A. Smith 


Cities are for walking; it eases traffic congestion.  Yet walking has its own rules of etiquette and efficiency,  whose flouting generates friction, as revealed in this story from the Wall Street Journal.



Where’s the walkers?  All The Rage: The average speed of walkers in Lower Manhattan is 4.27 feet per second.

 Other speeds:

 4. Headphone listeners: 4.64 feet per second

 6. Men: 4.42 feet per second

 8. People with bags: 4.27 feet per second

 3. Cellphone users: 4.20 feet per second

 2. Smokers: 4.17 feet per second

 7. Women: 4.10 feet per second

 1. Tourists walk 3.79 feet per second

 5. Large pedestrians: 3.74 feet per second

 Source: ‘Pedestrian Level of Service Study, Phase I’ from The City of New York and NYC Department of City Planning, April 2006. Observed: 8,978 pedestrians at various sidewalk locations in Lower Manhattan over about four weeks.; Wildlife Conservation Society


For many people, few things are more infuriating than slow walkers—those seemingly inconsiderate people who clog up sidewalks, grocery aisles and airport hallways while others fume behind them.


Becoming exasperated with ambulatory slowpokes is quite understandable: sidewalk space and street space are shared space, and when people vacantly consume more than ‘their share’ of the sidewalk, we instinctively reject that oblivious overconsumption.


Researchers say the concept of “sidewalk rage” is real.


Both the researchers and the Journal’s author are focusing their attention in the wrong place.  The question shouldn’t be How do we help people angry at block-walkers deal with their frustration?; rather, it should be How do we improve pedestrian flow by reducing walk-blocking? 


For a start, don’t sit on the sidewalk


Anyone who lives in a city can spot walk-blockers.  They wander.  They wobble.  They stop abruptly at precisely the points where doing so obstructs as many avenues as possible.  That’s because avenues mean choice and the out-of-towner is unprepared for the choice.  My favorite example of oblivion is the person who exits from a revolving door and then stops dead, whereupon everyone behind is expelled right into him or her.


Like this, only bigger people


One scientist has even developed a Pedestrian Aggressiveness Syndrome Scale to map out how people express their fury.


This being a blog, I hunted down the Pedestrian Aggressiveness Syndrome Scale:


Ask yourself how many of these bad pedestrian behaviors apply to you on a regular basis.


  1. Feeling stress and impatience when walking in a crowded area (crosswalk, staircase, mall, store, airport, street, beach, park, etc.)
  2. Having denigrating thoughts about other pedestrians
  3. Acting in a hostile manner (staring, presenting a mean face, moving faster or closer than expected)
  4. Walking much faster than the rest of the people
  5. Not yielding when it’s the polite thing to do (insisting on going first)
  6. Walking on the left of a crowded passageway where most pedestrians walk on the right
  7. Muttering at other pedestrians
  8. Bumping into others


Let’s not mutter out there


  1. Not apologizing when expected (after bumping by accident or coming very close in attempting to pass)
  2. Making insulting gestures
  3. Hogging or blocking the passageway, acting uncaring or unaware
  4. Walking by a slower moving pedestrian and cutting back too soon (feels hostile or rude)
  5. Expressing pedestrian rage against a driver (like insulting or throwing something)
  6. Feeling enraged at other pedestrians and enjoying thoughts of violence
  7. Feeling competitive with other pedestrians


These 15 bad behaviors define the pedestrian aggressiveness syndrome. They are all significantly correlated. This means that if you do one of them regularly, you will also do many of the other 14 on a regular basis. You need a pedestrian personality overhaul—see above.


On Facebook, there’s a group called “I Secretly Want to Punch Slow Walking People in the Back of the Head” that boasts nearly 15,000 members.



Actually, urbanites want to educate walk-blockers, but because the education of walk-blockers is potentially never-ending (there always being new ones come to our city), the urbanite want to harangue.  This is impolite, so the urbanite darts and dodges and mutters.


Some researchers are even studying the dynamics that trigger such rage and why some people
remain calm –


Tell me, have you always had this hatred of judgmental questions?


The outrage is understandable, arising from an inflammable combination of unexpected thwarting, a sudden absence of options, and knowledge that the blockage is unnecessary.


– in hopes of improving anger-management treatments and gaining insights into how emotions influence decision making, attention and self control.


“We’re trying to understand what makes people angry, what that experience is like,” says Jerry Deffenbacher, a professor at Colorado State University who studies anger and road rage. “For those for whom anger is a personal problem, we’re trying to develop and evaluate ways of helping them.”


Do I look angry to you?


Signs of a sidewalk rager include muttering or bumping into others; uncaringly hogging a walking lane; and acting in a hostile manner by staring, giving a “mean face” or approaching others too closely –


Better not block his way


– says Leon James, a psychology professor at the University of Hawaii who studies pedestrian and driver aggression.


James chills in Hawaii


For the cool-headed, sidewalk rage may seem incomprehensible. After all, it seems simple enough to just go around the slow individual.


Except it isn’t – people float into the white space, they subconsciously take the middle sidewalk, adjusting personal space based on how much is available to be taken.


Bigger groups consume more space


Most people on a sidewalk are in groups, and they tend to walk side-by-side or in an outward-opening V-shape, impeding the flow of foot traffic, according to an article published recently in PLoS One, a Public Library of Science journal.


Mehdi Moussaid, a cognitive scientist at the University of Toulouse who models walkers’ behavior on public sidewalks, estimates that “pedestrian groups reduce the traffic efficiency by an average of 17%.”


People in clusters walk slower


How one interprets the situation is key, researchers say. Ragers tend to have a strong sense of how other people should behave. Their code:


[1] Slower people keep to the right.

[2] Step aside to take a picture.

[3] The left side of an escalator should be, of course, kept free for anyone wanting to walk up.


Do any of the preceding rules seem to you illogical, unreasonable, or obscure?  None, correct?  They’re just sensible etiquette once one internalizes that the street is shared space.


On sidewalks across America, slow-paced foot shufflers, window gawkers and photo snappers are causing fellow pedestrians to lose their cool. We ask some New Yorkers what pushes their buttons (embedded video after 15-second ad).


Urbanite anger comes from irritation at people who are oblivious – and perhaps the urbanites instinctively deduce that the gawkers are out-of-towners.


Can you tell we’re from out of town?


The urbanite’s irritation increases through the subconscious awareness that those blocking one’s path don’t know how to behave in the city.  City dwellers walk faster than suburbanites.


“A lot of us have ‘shoulds’ in our head,” says Dr. Deffenbacher.  Ragers tend to think people should do things their way, and get angry because the slow walkers are breaking the rules of civility.


Slow walkers who consume sidewalk space are breaking the rules of civility – and the rules of awareness.  Sidewalk space and street space are shared space, and when people seize it, we instinctively reject their claim of possession.


People slow down when distracted by other activities, too. A 2006 study by the City of New York and the NYC Department of City Planning showed smokers walk 2.3% slower than the average walker’s 4.27 feet per second. Tourists creep along at an 11% more-leisurely rate than the average walker, while cellphone talkers walk 1.6% slower, according to the study. Headphone wearers, by contrast, clipped along at a 9% faster rate than average.


Instructive is that all these aberrant walkers are lacking in situational awareness.


Should’ve look before you leapt


By breaking the rules of efficient sidewalk flow, the slowpokes are unwittingly breaching the rules of urban  civility – which leaves urbanites fuming. 


Why don’t they know any better?


In contrast, someone blissfully free of sidewalk rage may still be frustrated, but thinks more accepting thoughts such as, “this is the way life is sometimes” or, “I wish that slow person wasn’t in front of me,” he says.


Psychologists say that the best thing for a rager to do is to calm down.


Psychologists certainly are insightful, aren’t they?


Instead of thinking about how much of an idiot the pedestrian is and how he shouldn’t be allowed on the sidewalk, imagine the person is lost or confused, or simply doesn’t see you, says Eric Dahlen, a psychology professor at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg who researches anger, aggression and traffic psychology.


Here’s a better solution: paint a line down each sidewalk.  Slowpokes on one side, fastpokes on another.


People moving in rhythm – an obvious fantasy