Monday, September 27, 2010

In America, We Walk Like We Drive . . . On The Right!

Made a quick errand run during my lunch break. It's pouring cats and dogs here in NYC today, but of course this doesn't stop the tourists from coming out. Nor should it. This was us in Paris not all that long ago, after all. Rain or shine, we had an itinerary to keep to!

But funny thing about tourists . . . they don't always adhere to the unwritten rule of New York City sidewalk travel: Here, we walk on the right-hand side of the path, you see?

Got it? Good!

Now, even on a nice sunny day this is still a problem. I work down by Ground Zero, so this area is particularly crawling with tourists. And, because of this, it's not an uncommon occurrence to find a group of out-of-towners headed one's way, their heads up in the air at the tall buildings all around, and completely ignoring the fact that they're blocking oncoming foot traffic on the same sidewalk.

New York City is a busy and very crowded city, I'm sure I don't need to tell you that. And like any other big, major metropolis, pedestrian flow is a top issue here. The maxim is never implicitly expressed, but natives have adopted the single most important rule of the road, which is: in America, we drive on the right side.

Now, I understand as a tourist to our fair city you might not be used to the side of the road we drive on -- especially if you are from, say, Australia or the U.K. Which is why it's a good thing you're not driving. But, please, for the love of god -- PLEASE don't walk in the path of oncoming pedestrians. It causes problems right fast.

Especially if it's a rainy day, as today was. NYC, like Paris or London, is an umbrella city. Ponchos are for non-natives, or--yup, you guessed it!--tourists. And as such, when a New Yorker has his umbrella up, he's not really paying all that much attention to who's blocking the sidewalk up ahead. About all he can see are the heels of the person walking in front of him. So the last thing he needs is the front of his expensive umbrella getting smashed and bent in by some oblivious visitor trying to focus his viewfinder on the very top floor of the Woolworth building.

But don't worry, tourists. I still love you. After all, it's no easier for me whenever we travel to left-side driving countries like the ones you might be from.

See, that's me driving a golf cart while on Harbour Island in the Bahamas last year. And, yes, the golf cart is the preferred means of transport on this rather small tropical island. But as you can see, I'm *gasp* driving on the left side of the road! Yeah, trust me, it took a LOT of getting used to. And all I have to say is -- thank the Maker I wasn't driving an actual car. I might look like I have the right idea (or is that: the left idea?) in the above photo, but let me tell you this wasn't often the case. Many times I made a turn only to find myself on an (eventual) headlong collision track with the cart ahead of me in the same lane. Oops!

So, yeah, I've made the mistake too. It happens to the best of us. And like the natives of that friendly, happy island, I did smile and not let my frustration show to the hapless tourist family who walked straight into my umbrella this very afternoon. No harm done.

Just, please, be more observant next time. Everyone's walking on one side of the sidewalk for a reason. This is New York, after all. Most of us are level-headed here . . . when we're on our meds. But it only takes that one psych ward escapee to ruin an otherwise perfectly enjoyable holiday in the States. Please don't let it happen to you.

You've been forewarned.


  1. My husband loved driving on the "wrong side" of the road in England. He loves going against the grain - so watch out for us if we are ever in your fair city again.

    Of course, I'll be on the proper side ;)

  2. Well, since you drive on the same side in Portland as we do here, Kim . . . I'm sure you'd do fine here in the Big Apple.

    I have to say, I'm surprised by how many more countries adhere to right-side driving than not. More than I ever imagined. On our recent cruise, for example, every single one of the countries we traveled to -- Italy, Greece, Turkey -- drove on the same side we do. And add to that, France. It's a world-wide phenomenon! :)

  3. Driving on the left now seems to be limited to islands, like UK, Australia, Japan (I think). Can you imagine the confusion if neighbouring countries drove on different sides? All the criss-crossing that would happen on every road that crossed the border? Not surprising that one convention came to dominate the globe.

    We never really had problems making the switch, although when I was young and we were preparing to travel abroad for the first time I remember having huge difficulty envisaging it. Never heard of applying the convention to pedestrian traffic, though. Even London isn't busy enough for people to worry about it. NY must be super-busy!

  4. Some parts of NY, Ian. Especially the downtown area. It's so busy that--even though it's not a set-in-stone--most people do try to adhere to a certain "rule of the sidewalk" here to allow foot traffic to move smoothly. And in Times Square, the crowds are easily 3/4ths out-of-towners.


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