A pedestrian dilemma: Which way?

In America it seems to be fairly straight forward: We move right. In the UK (and potentially the rest of the world?) people seem to move all over the place.

So, here’s the deal as I see it: In America, we drive on the right side of the road. If we’re cycling on the road, we ride in the direction of traffic. If we’re walking or running on the side of the road, we do so opposite of the direction of traffic for visibility purposes. When we’re on a sidewalk (UK translation: pavement) we tend to walk on the right, as we do in corridors and when using stairs or escalators (UK translation: elevators).

As with cars, people will generally pass on the left and we yield to others depending on the situation. It’s really quite civilised and is common no matter where you travel—though in larger metropolitan areas with big crowds, it can get a bit messy.

In the UK, drivers travel on the left. And everyone else just moves every which way. There doesn’t seem to be a pattern at all.

I first realised this ten years ago when I moved to Edinburgh. I was having the hardest time walking along Princes Street and climbing stairs without bumping into people. At first, I was embarrassed because I realised that I’d been moving along the right side of the pavement and stair cases, so of course I’d be running into people because, obviously, people should be walking on the left, just as motorist drive. Right? (Wrong!)

I tried keeping to the left and realised that I was getting bumped into just as much there as I’d been on the right. So I started to observe a bit more to see what sort of cultural clues I could find. But ten years later and I’ve still not found the clues!

What I have learned, however, is that it’s every walker for themselves in the UK. People scatter like ants and giving way is not always automatic. Yes, there is a level of decency and politeness to it all, but it seems (to this outsider’s mind) to be very disorganised and haphazard.

So, how do you do it? How to you navigate the sidewalks and corridors in a nation where there doesn’t seem to be a right-of-way? If you know, please feel free to share your wisdom. Otherwise, maybe I’ll figure it out one of these days. In which case, I’ll come back and share my wisdom with you.

[The photo was originally uploaded to an album on RyanCentric. It was taken at the hotel Paul and I stayed at during the holiday where he proposed. We didn’t agree with what the carving was: He thought it was a random carving, I thought (and maintain to this day) that it’s an abstract arrow. You know, in case you wondered where it came from.]

3 Replies to “A pedestrian dilemma: Which way?”

  1. I did wonder about the picture…
    And as for making progress in the UK, just barge straight down the middle. That’s what everyone else does after all!!

  2. In India it’s a free-for-all when they DRIVE. I would not want to navigate that situation!
    It’s really hard to walk here in Oklahoma. I don’t know why. They seem to walk slow and in any direction they choose. It’s really stressful sometimes. I’ve left places because I was just so exhausted trying to navigate. They also pass you on the right, even if there isn’t road! It’s so funny to be in a place where they drive fast and walk (and talk) slow. I have to work to keep up with how quickly my family and friends still in Washington talk… and how quiet. They speak very loud here.

    1. That’s funny about the talking, because I never thought of the Pacific Northwest as being somewhere that people spoke fast–or quietly!
      I’d heard about driving being a free-for-all in India–and apparently in Italy, as well!

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