Pedestrian etiquette should be prioritized on campus walkways

Photo of the bridge at night
Courtesy of Lewis & Clark

Getting around campus has always proved to be an interesting affair. There is no need to drive due to our college’s size, and bikes, scooters, skateboards or other similar methods of transportation tend to struggle on the hills and rough brickwork. Naturally, this leads people to walk on the narrow, twisting passageways that stitch the campus together. Even on a sunny day, these can be difficult to navigate. 

If you happen to be a particularly speedy walker, a biker or, God forbid, traveling in a group, things get worse. We have all been stuck behind a group, we have all wondered if we could pass the person in front of us without ramming into oncoming foot traffic and if you have ridden a bike on campus, you will know the struggles of getting it through certain places without going head-over-handlebars. Something needs to happen about this, but what?

First, we need to talk about the limitations of what could actually be done. We cannot go the route of America’s finest civil engineers and add just one more lane to the sidewalks;, we cannot enforce rules about how to walk properly; and we cannot put some of the burden on other means of transportation. After all, even if we encouraged biking, they would still be riding on the same pathways that everybody is walking on. What we need is etiquette.

As far as enforcing rules go, no method works better than the threat of (minor) social ostracization. We know that cutting in line is wrong, we know that eating food with a fork rather than shoveling it up with your hands is polite and we know that taking groceries out of somebody’s cart before they have paid is impolite. There is no steadfast rule about these, sure, but we still know do not to do them due to etiquette.

Now, what should this etiquette entail? As a certified fast-walker, I would like to see some level of sorting take place on the paths, similar to how it is done on the highway. Slower walkers farther off to the side, fast walkers, runners or bikers closer to the center. To a degree, this has already implemented itself into the underlying social ruleset of the college, although it would make things much more efficient if it wereas followed more often. When there are two people walking almost exactly the same speed side-by-side, it can be difficult to pass. 

Additionally, it can be especially difficult to pass if somebody starts to waver back and forth. If somebody is walking consistently slowly , sure, that is acceptable. But if somebody is walking slowly because they are zig-zagging across the sidewalk, it is just plain frustrating. I can walk past somebody if they are just moving straight, but somebody that cannot decide if they want to go right or left or straight takes up all the space that they are winding through. Please just pick a direction and stick to it.

Groups on thin paths are always rough. Two people side-by-side is manageable. Three people almost always take up far too much of the sidewalk, not just for the people going in the same direction as them, but also for the people moving opposite. Sidewalks are not exactly one-way and taking up both flows of traffic for a conversation is plain inconsiderate. I do not care what deep, philosophical debates you are holding. If you plan on having an important talk with three or more people, please find someplace more convenient to do it. I am walking here.

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