Issue 2, Semester 1, 2019
Walking. A simple and straightforward activity, right? Not so. The Melbourne populace has a serious problem with walking. Today I turn my attention to this long-aching thorn in my side.
Careful research has yielded the following list of seminal, peer-reviewed, footpath-walking skills:
While I could write a thesis on the walking-related issues listed above, my focus will be on step #2: ‘stick to one side of the sidewalk’. As an aside, I note that the visual representations of these advices are riveting, should anyone be interested in further research of their own.
If you don’t have the overriding urge to follow step #2, you are either:
Let’s start with the basics. Traffic in Australia flows on the left, as opposed to countries like Canada and the United States, where it flows on the right. We know this.
In Canada, the concept that traffic flows on the right extends to footpath travel. Humans; dogs; horses (see eg, Royal Canadian Mounted Police); all creatures walk on the right.
Melburnians generally refuse to follow this principle. Walking in the CBD is a test of agility, mobility, and hostility. The city is a jungle of erratic individuals, weaving from side to side, meandering in the middle of the sidewalk, or, God forbid, maintaining a strict physical presence on the right side of the footpath. Sometimes I really do miss my homeland.
Highway driving has simple rules relating to speed of travel. Slower moving cars stay in the left-most lane, faster moving cars in the right. If you are in the left lane and encounter someone moving a bit too slowly for your taste, you can briefly change lanes over to the right, pass the culprit, and promptly return to the left. Footpath walking has a near identical natural structure that ensures pedestrians arrive at their destinations in a safe and orderly fashion. Slow walkers to the left, fast walkers to the right. This is not complicated. And yet, here, chaos reigns supreme.
I refer you to Figure A and B, below. Figure A depicts a utopia of human movement. Sadly, it represents an idealised society we will never achieve. Figure B depicts your standard commute down Elizabeth Street or, even worse, the Southbank waterfront.
Look, I realise we aren’t robots. Sometimes you need to take a weird route to avoid some workmen, a puddle, or a group of angsty teenagers taking a rush-hour selfie. Still, we can do better. I believe in us.
I appreciate a good walk. A bit of fresh air, a stretch for the old legs, maybe have a little think, or simply zone out for a few kilometres. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to reach my preferred Zen-like state of movement in the current pedestrian climate. Serenity eludes me. At odds with every rogue walker in the city, I constantly find myself fighting an uphill (no pun intended) battle to reach my destination. There is no peace for pedestrians.
Ironically, the state of Melbourne footpaths is causing me to act increasingly erratic myself. More and more I find myself aggressively passing others to combat my own frustration. I swerve into oncoming traffic only to duck onto the road to avoid certain disaster. I weave in and out of tourists as I angrily curse under my breath. I’ll take any route available to me, exploit any opening, and elbow between large groups who monopolise the public space. In an attempt to navigate my nemeses, I’ve become everything I hate. You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.
I have very little hope for pedestrians in Melbourne. My expectations are at rock bottom. I hope and pray that we can figure this out together, but until that day comes please stay out of my way.
Jared is a Third Year JD Student
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