Sidewalk Etiquette

sidewalk etiquetteHow about this weather we’ve been enjoying?  It’s been so nice out lately, that more and more Kingstonians have headed outside for their daily dose of exercise.  With the sun on my face and the wind at my back, my fitness regime has been totally reinvigorated by mother nature.  But it’s not all personal bests and shin splints, as my recent foray outdoors has also reminded me that many people simply do not know, or otherwise care about proper sidewalk etiquette.  Few things enrage me more than those who do not posses the common sense to share the sidewalk with others.  With this in mind, today’s post will address some common scenarios as well as establish a few proper guidelines to enhance sidewalk etiquette in Kingston.

Stay to the Right, Pass on the Left:  The foundation of sidewalk etiquette rests with the application of the basic rules of the road to the sidewalk.  In other words, think of yourself as a car and the sidewalk as a road.  Staying to the left would make perfect sense if you lived in Jamaica or merry old England, but since this is Canada, the rule of thumb is to travel on the right hand side.  In situations where we need to pass another pedestrian, we should always wait for an appropriate opportunity, and do so on the left.  Passing should be conducted with the same care and attention that we are expected to employ while driving on the road.  That is to say, everyone should refrain from passing on the left if it is likely to result in a collision with oncoming traffic.

Two or More is a Crowd:  Building on the aforementioned rule, walking side by side is also unacceptable when it puts you at risk of colliding with oncoming traffic.  Kingston is home to many narrow sidewalks, which are only wide enough for two pedestrians.  In such instances, groups travelling two or more abreast must collapse and proceed in single file.  This goes for love birds walking hand in hand, parents with beginner walkers and everyone in between.  In special circumstances where the sidewalk can accommodate two in one lane and one in the other, travelling two abreast is completely acceptable.  These group guidelines can also be applied when confronted with dog walkers, baby strollers, shoppers who are overburdened with parcels, and so forth.  Always remember to give ample room, and to be courteous.

Overcoming Obstacles:  Last but not least is a bit of advice on how to overcome special obstacles.  Whether you come across sandwich boards, dog poop, vomit, smelly garbage, oversized umbrellas, snow banks, lake-sized puddles, construction or fiery lava you simply have to remember to follow the basic rules of the road.  If the obstruction is in your lane, you should wait until oncoming traffic is clear, and then proceed around safely.  Those in the oncoming lane should be mindful of obstacles that are opposite to them, and slow for pedestrians who are trying to overcome them.  It’s the courteous thing to do.

While these rules were created as a result of my recent experiences outdoors, they could be easily transferred to indoor environments such as the mall.  Just so we’re clear, unfortunately rollerblades, skateboards and bikes should not normally be used on the sidewalk.  There, I said it.  And in case you need a refresher on the approved bike signals, please check out this post.

Special thanks to Chris Suderman for the photo accompanying today’s post.

Harvey Kirkpatrick

Harvey Kirkpatrick is Kingstonist's Co-Founder. His features curiously explore urban planning, what if scenarios, the local food scene and notable Kingstonians. Loves playing tourist and listening to rap music. Learn more about Harvey...

15 thoughts on “Sidewalk Etiquette

  • Would motorized scooters fall under the third set of recommendations? I'm all for giving way to and assisting those with mobility issues, although some people I've encountered in this city are just plain rude. They think they own the road, sidewalks, and grocery store aisles with their buggies.

    • These scooters work best on flat surfaces, hence slopped sidewalks (those that accommodate a driveway or crosswalk) can be a real hazard. I suppose that's one of the main reasons we see so many of these devices ripping down the streets. In any case, if you encounter a zig-zagging scooter on the sidewalk, your best bet is to be patient and give way accordingly.

      • Have you ever been hit by one? Those scooters need to slow down when they approach people, not the other way around. that's a vehicle that can do serious damage. Just because the rider is mobility-impaired does not mean they get a free pass – PC madness otherwise!

    • I wonder if these are the same idiots I constantly see "driving" their electric buggies up the middle of the right hand lane on Bath Road, blocking an entire lane of traffic, when there are perfectly good sidewalks…

      Indoors, my pet peeve is SUV sized strollers that are left blocking the entire aisle, while the oblivious mom plays with her Blackberry or yaks to her friends on her cellphone. I wish people would put down their binkies (IPODs, mobile phones, etc) and pay attention to the rest of the world when in public spaces, instead of behaving like inconsiderate human roadblocks. A lot of the rudeness I encounter on sidewalks stems from the fact that the individuals in question are zoned out in their own world, and couldn't care less about anyone else…

  • It's kind of sad that we need this advice, it feels like "ways to act like a nice human being." But I agree that this guide is quite warranted at times!! I feel like this should get posted somewhere on the Queen's website…..advice to students: When you are walking 3 across, you should be the ones to move, not the single person walking towards you. Somehow I always end up in the dirt on my walk to work!

  • Welcome to Singapore. No spitting or gum chewing either. On another note, give way to dogwalkers? I think not!

    • I've been to Singapore…no gum or goobers stuck on the sidewalk is nice, but I would not say people know how to share the sidewalk there either. Or how to board a commuter train or elevator properly, now that I think about it.

  • Sidewalker, you must be a student.

    I'm so tired of people that don't move over and force me on the road that I actually thank them as I pass. Sarcastic? Yes, but very necessary sometimes. A lot of people need to become more self-aware in general.

    Good job on this (sadly) much needed post, Harvey.

  • 'Sidewalker, you must be a student. ' No, I'm a geezer. Just seems like more and more rules – do we need this much direction in life?

    • Sadly yes, some people do need this much direction. Otherwise I would not have written it. Although I daresay this piece will be considered more humorous than anything else, as those who need the lesson aren't listening.

  • My only nitpicks about people on sidewalks are:
    – Slow moving zigzagers. Walking slowly is fine, I understand that not everyone can or needs to walk as quickly as I do – but if you are walking slowly, try to keep to a straight line and not zigzag all over the sidewalk, taking up a lot of room and making it needlessly difficult to get past you.
    – Sudden stoppers. People that are walking in front of you and all of a sudden come to a stop and just stand there. With so much going on in downtown Kingston, or indeed any city, there is often a lot of things to catch your eyes – you look away for a second, the person walking in front stops suddenly for no apparent reason, and BAM you collide.

    I have no problems with people walking 3 wide, I just play chicken with them. If they fail to move, I consider that having been a free education to them.

    Generally the sidewalks downtown are wide enough to almost never be overflowing. Although all of our beloved seasonal panhandlers can create chokepoints in areas.

    • Sudden stoppers are also a pet peeve of mine. Nothing worse than almost walking into someone because they decided to stop and gawk at something, without checking behind them.

  • oh! and I have a special place in my heart for those who panic when they see a runner. When I'm running, I've already planned my route a good 20-40 feet in front of me. I'm the one going fast, I'll work my way around you, please don't try to dodge me! A friend of mine had this problem while jogging, where a pedestrian didn't know where to go, panicked and ended up pushing her into a bush. It sounds funny, and it probably was a sight to see, but it didn't need to happen that way. I think people doing anything but walking on the sidewalk are responsible for staying out of the way of others.

  • Oh, and what about people cycling on the sidewalks downtown? Argh! I miss the good old days when there was a constable patrolling the downtown, issuing tickets to people rollerblading/skateboarding/cycling on the sidewalks. Sadly that only seems to happen during the tourist season, if at all, these days.

    I will never understand the need for anyone to cycle on the sidewalks downtown, or worse yet, in the wrong direction on the street itself. It's dangerous, a major annoyance to many, and it doesn't really save any time. *deep breath*

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