April 29, 2007

Pedestrian taxonomy

As someone who walks quickly, and who still gets agitated about people with poor sidewalk skills even as I have gotten mellower about many other things that used to drive me crazy, I have developed a classification system to describe the various different ways in which other pedestrians contrive to get in my way.

1) Amblers

The most common sidewalk nuisance, these are the people who are in no particular hurry, ever. Sometimes they are tourists. More often they are people who apparently have nowhere to be, but are on the sidewalk anyway.

2) Millers

These are people who have run into each other on the street, or just come out of a restaurant, and are conducting their conversation smack in the middle of sidewalk traffic.

3) Meanderers

They may or may not be walking slow enough to be amblers, but they're walking slower than you, in any case. Their main trait, however, is that they do not walk in a straight line. They drift from side to side, making it difficult to get around them without getting into their personal space.

4) Spacers (aka Expanders)

Speaking of personal space, we have these people, who are walking in a group, but keep a larger distance between all members of the group than usual, thus taking up far more space than is necessary or reasonable. Two spacers can take up a regular-width sidewalk, but even one person can expand their own personal space to an inconvenient size by swinging their arms too far to the side while they walk.

5) One-siders

These are people who come out of a restaurant/store/whatever, and look one way...and then immediately turn and start walking in the other direction without looking in that direction to see if anyone's coming, thus causing many collisions or near-collisions.

More classifications may come to me later, but I think that covers the essentials. There is one specific sort of meanderer I would like to point out, though, and that is the person who looks behind themself over their shoulder as they walk. I highlight this brand of meanderer because I can offer advice about them: if someone is turning and looking over their right shoulder, they're about to start drifting to the right (and vice versa), since turning your head that far to the side pulls the whole body in that direction. Thus if you're trying to get around someone and they turn to look over their shoulder, go the other way.

Anyone else have any types of sidewalk behavior that irritate them?

Posted by Francis at 11:53 PM

It's worse when you grow up in NYC and move to a city where people are practically going in reverse half the time.

This post reminds me of all those times in HS and college when newly-minted couples would be holding hands and being all lovey dovey while the rest of us just wanted them to move the hell out of the way so we could get to class...

Posted by: Toonhead! at April 30, 2007 07:12 AM

Or as Camus put it: "Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and annoy the heck out of everyone trying to get past us in either direction."

Posted by: Ucaoimhu at April 30, 2007 07:36 AM

You've reminded me of another.

6) Alphas

These are people who are walking in an area where the sidewalk has narrowed (because of construction or whatever) to make it difficult for people to get by each other, and who insist on continuing to walk side by side instead of changing to single file to let other people go by in the other direction. (Also applies to a single expander who refuses to step to the edge of the sidewalk instead of walking straight down the middle.)

Posted by: Francis at April 30, 2007 08:40 AM

You forgot 7) Window Shoppers

Liable to come to a sudden direct halt, especially in front of shop windows filled with shoes.

Not that I've ever been guilty of that myself, no ...

Of course, I have to say my least self-aware NYC sidewalk moment was the time, during the holiday season, when I was swearing (in my head) at all the "tourists" on 5th Ave who couldn't be arsed to get out of my way WHILE I WAS DRAGGING A LARGE SUITCASE up same avenue. Cognitive disconnect, much?

Posted by: Erin at April 30, 2007 09:04 AM

8) The Fumigators. They're doused in a heavy fragrance or smoking, leaving everyone in their wake gagging. The early-morning perfumers are an assault on my recently awakened senses. With a little luck, they won't be such flagrant meanderers that you can't pass them.

Posted by: Orange at April 30, 2007 10:05 AM

Man, I hate Spacers.

Posted by: The Dan at April 30, 2007 10:24 AM

Wow, y'all're such a bunch of New Yorkers. Speaking as a Southerner: embrace the amble. Wherever you're going will still be there when you get there--and that's even coming from a city where we know some Yankee like Sherman might try to get there first and burn it.

So, OK, sure, I hate the Alphas. But that's because they interfere with a good amble. (Well, and I'm utterly with Erin, having just had to drag two suitcases down a sidewalk in Philadelphia, nearly having to run over some high schoolers in town for the Penn Relay because, while apparently they're very good at moving fast in ovals, they're very bad at getting out of the way of a large man with 75 extra pounds of suitcase momentum and no maneuverability.)

Posted by: Lance at April 30, 2007 12:20 PM

9) Stepasides

People who are far too polite/violet and shrinking by the minute to get in anyones way, or are willing to let everyone through to their own detriment and the rage of anyone behind them. Having said that, I'm a stepaside , but people move a bit slower in Ireland.

Posted by: Gussles at April 30, 2007 01:06 PM

Couldn't be bothered to think of one more category and draw a cartoon, could you?

Posted by: Anonymous at April 30, 2007 02:43 PM

What is this "walking" of which you speak? And why would anyone look both ways before turning right?

Posted by: driving suburbanite at April 30, 2007 03:36 PM

A different pedestrial phenomenon I've been fascinated by:

Some people are Leaders. When walking in a group of 2 or more, they'll instinctively walk a little ahead, setting the pace. They'll do this even if they're the only one in the group who doesn't know where they're going. From time to time they'll make wrong turns. Often the rest of the group will follow along, assuming the Leader must know a shortcut.

Some people are Followers. (I fall in this category.) They'll instinctively hang back a little, letting someone else take the lead, even if only by a fraction of a step. A Follower will do this even if they're the *only* person in the group who knows where they're going.

A group of two or more Followers and no Leader is prone to stopping for no reason, as each person tries to lag a little bit behind the others. If you are a Leader, you probably find it hard to believe this actually happens. Trust me.

Posted by: Rubrick at April 30, 2007 07:33 PM

Leaving the T on the way to work, I often stage the following elaborate fantasy in my head and then become depressed over the fact that I will never work up the courage to actually implement said fantasy:

[Delivered in best stentorian Mayor Quimby voice] My fellow Americans. An escalator is not a theme park ride. Stand to the right, walk to the left. Thank you, and God bless America.

Posted by: Scott at April 30, 2007 11:01 PM

The thing about Millers (whom I term "the Spatially Impaired") is that they seem to unerringly find the narrowest part of the sidewalk, bridge, or subway platform--the spot that's also next to a mailbox, garbage can, column, etc.--to stand in and have their conversation or take their snapshot. Just to make my day a little bit more like a really frustrating video game.

When I was a kid, living on a block with narrow sidewalks and a goodly number of trees, my mother was forever snapping at me about getting into single file whenever the sidewalk narrowed. She didn't care if I walked in front or behind, so long as I didn't block the whole passage. It was a Big Deal. As an adult, I'm kind of obsessive about it.

Posted by: India at May 1, 2007 12:29 AM

Oh so much truth being spoken here.

Erin: I think I'd classified Window Shoppers as a subset of Amblers, but you're correct, they are a separate class, since it's not the walking speed, it's the sudden stops.

Scott: Escalators! Yes. The thing is, I just don't really get why anyone chooses to stand still on a down escalator. I understand that, while I don't mind walking up a flight of stairs (and enjoy the fact that when I'm on an escalator, I'm walking up a flight of stairs but like twice as fast!), other people might prefer not to expend that energy when the escalator is more than happy to do all the work for you. But since when is it too hard to walk downstairs?

India: Oh god, I know exactly what you mean. Just today there were two Millers between me and the exit on the subway platform. Couldn't go to my right because there was a frickin' trash can there, so I had to squeeze around a column while the train was leaving the station, which I hate to do because I'm paranoid about being so close to a moving train. Grr.

At a different point during my commute today, I remembered two other related breeds of Spacer, which perhaps deserve their own name, but I can't think of good ones. One is the person who, when exactly one person has just started climbing the subway stairs ahead of them, does not get directly behind that person, but instead staggers themself to the left or right -- even though they are going at exactly the same speed as the other person, thus blocking anyone behind them who might want to get past.

On reflection, that's probably just another type of Spacer and not its own category; I think it's an example of someone feeling that walking directly behind someone is too much of an imposition on their personal space, so they spread out to fill the staircase.

The other type is the person who isn't walking very fast, but is walking behind someone who is even slower, and decides to go past -- but does not increase their speed in the slightest in the process, thus taking forever to pass the other person (if indeed they ever do), and blocking the sidewalk in the process for anyone who would actually like to get past both of them with some measure of alacrity. Maybe the name for these people is Self-Deluders, since they think they walk faster than they do. Other suggestions happily considered.

Posted by: Francis at May 1, 2007 01:11 AM

Hey Francis,

I was just describing to Patrick B. the other day about "millers" at the bottom landing of the subway. In that miserable NYC rain last week or the week before, I was out of the subway and headed for the stairs to the street when I noticed a worse logjam than usual. This was caused by a gaggle of people holding their hands out over the stairs and going "Oh man, it's raining!" Yes indeed! It had been the whole night before and, no doubt, had been whenever they'd boarded the train - as Dave Chappelle's white newscaster might say: "Flabbergasting!"...Figure out what you're gonna do under some awning UPSTAIRS, ON THE STREET, OUT OF THE STAIRCASE AND STATION, THANKYOUHAVEANICEDAY!!!

Posted by: Tony Orbach at May 1, 2007 11:35 AM

One more thing.. While I can't stand any of the listed walkers, I can at least understand how it can happen that people could lapse into one of the categories: except for meanderers. There is no explaining not walking in a straight, somewhat predictable line!%^&*! Which reminds me of a related and I think unmentioned category: Concert-goers... The rendered-blind-and-unable-to-walk-successfully by-headphones phenomenon! A good Ipod tune will cause any and all of the listed digressions, sometimes all at once.

Posted by: Tony Orbach at May 1, 2007 11:45 AM

I don't know what you would call this, but once when I was walking toward a corner (the big red hand was up) I opted to turn left rather than wait. A woman came striding up on my left side from behind me, saying curtly, "no." She put out her arm and swept me to the right, striding over the curb and into the oncoming traffic to cross against the light.

I was floored.

Posted by: Dianna at May 1, 2007 01:02 PM

This classification could form the basis of an addictive Flash game. I'd throw in a few baby strollers, panhandlers, food carts, leafleters, buskers, and perhaps the occasional stretch of building scaffolds. The higher levels would feature added challenges such as precipitation or rollerbladers. You'd get points for making forward progress, lose points for jostling, and if you wipe someone out or get wiped out by someone, you lose a life.

Tell me this hasn't been done already.

Posted by: RichM at May 1, 2007 01:09 PM

Dianna: I think that's just a crazy person!

Rich: As far as I know, it's all you.

Posted by: Francis at May 1, 2007 02:08 PM

Oh, and Tony -- I know what you mean about the people blocking the ends of stairwells. It's even worse when it's an escalator. Stand on the right, walk on the left, and don't come to a dead stop right at the end of the escalator when there are people being drawn inexorably forward just behind you!

Posted by: Francis at May 1, 2007 02:10 PM

Being a rural type, I have to find these specimens in school halls and grocery stores, but they are definitely to be found.

Staircase variant: Rush Hour Laners. On any narrow, divided staircase, when people are in the middle of traversing the staircase on one side, these are the people who head in the same direction on the other side, blocking all traffic going in the opposite direction for no reason whatsoever.

Variant on Window Shoppers: Aisle Shoppers. "Is what I want down this aisle? I don't know. Perhaps if I strain my neck a little further, or maybe back up a couple of steps, I'll be able to spot it. God forbid I take 30 seconds to just turn down the aisle and find out."

Posted by: Robert Hutchinson at May 1, 2007 05:43 PM

Speaking of escalators, while working inside of Macy's for a bit, I became very acquainted with the (typically elderly) shopper who gets to the elevator and decides the first two or three steps aren't quite steady enough for them. And strollers? Don't even get me started.

Posted by: znufrii at May 2, 2007 09:45 PM

Many of these categories of behavior are also noted in cars. Chicago's North Lake Shore Drive has four lanes each way...and it's nigh impossible to to go 60 when a cluster of cars going 50 line up beside one another. They haven't even got the excuse of slowing down to chat with each other—they're just oblivious to surrounding traffic and the hordes looming behind them. Alas, local ordinances to not permit me to play bumper cars with these drivers.

I'm a Midwesterner, but a New York–style walker. I will pass people even when I'm not in a hurry, just so I need not be subject to any meanderings they may start. I'll also jostle or "ExCUSE me" past groups of Spacers. I just have to.

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