Friday, July 12, 2013

Is it time for some "rules of the sidewalk"?

We all have to learn and obey the rules of the road when we drive a car, motorbike, or even venture on the roadway with a bicycle.  But who sets the rules for pedestrian thoroughfares: sidewalks, malls, escalators, stairways, hiking trails?  Some days it feels like a free-for-all out there and it is getting dangerous.

Slower traffic bears to the right:
A near accident a couple of days ago started me thinking about this.  On a busy downtown sidewalk I heard someone walking rapidly behind me.  Being a polite person, I did what I have been trained to do my whole life: I politely stepped to the right to let the person in a hurry pass me.  Engrained in my sense of how the world works is that slower traffic stays to the right and faster traffic passes on the left.  Because this individual decided to pass on the right instead, I unintentionally shoulder checked her into King Street where she could have easily been hit by a passing car. If you try to pass people on the sidewalk on their right, this kind of accident is going to happen.

Stay in your lane:
On the roadway we know that we have to stay in our lane and that traffic is two-way unless signed otherwise.  In rush hour that often means that lanes going one-way are crowded while the roadway on the other side is empty.  However car drivers do not see that as a licence to drive all over the road. Yet the same people when exiting the subway decide that they can walk up both sides of stair-wells and make it difficult and dangerous for the fewer number of individuals going in the opposite direction.I have sometimes shouted out, "hey two-way traffic stairwell, bear right" as I have wrestled my way down the King Street station stairwell. As someone who lives in downtown, I often find myself commuting against the flow of traffic.

Who belongs on the sidewalk?:
Pedestrian routes are for pedestrians.  No wheeled vehicle, apart from mobility devices has a place on the sidewalk.  I had someone on a bicycle justify their presence on the sidewalk on the basis of walking a dog from bicycle!  There's so many things wrong with that it left me sputtering. With motorized wheelchairs and scooters sharing our walkways, seems like we need some rules about how fast these devices travel. No mobility device should be moving on a congested sidewalk or other public space faster than pedestrians. Increasingly I see mobility scooters traveling at reckless speeds on sidewalks, in malls and in shopping centres.

Shared pathways and trails
Again, keep in your own lane and slower traffic bears to the right helps prevent a lot of accidents. Bicycles on shared pathways need to slowdown and make sure the people they are passing are aware of their presence and are not going to step out into your path.  You shouldn't think that just because you have pinged a bell or a horn that the pedestrian has heard you.  Between Ipods and hearing impairment you can't be sure until that pedestrian steps aside and you have eye-contact.