A question to Brits (or Kiwis, or anyone who drives on the left)

On my way to the Divinity School for lunch—their cafe, called “Hallowed Grounds”, has a good selection of ethnic food though it bears the unfortunate motto “Where God drinks coffee”)—I saw that classes had just let out and students were crowding the sidewalks. I also noticed that students were walking like cars on a road: each stream was walking to the right.

I was just wondering if it’s the opposite in countries like the UK where people drive on the left side of the road. Do people also walk on the left?

130 Comments

  1. Posted January 16, 2018 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    No. Walking should follow the opposite convention,so pedestrians can better see approaching vehicles

    • Posted January 16, 2018 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

      No, I mean when people are crowded on a sidewalk with no cars, do they automatically form two streams that walk on the left? e.g. people coming out of the tube station and going in.

      • Posted January 16, 2018 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

        Not sure about walking on the pavement (‘sidewalk’ is the American term) but we tend to walk on the left on stairways.

        I think it’s the same on escalators too.

        I think it’s because it’s easier to defend yourself with your right hand.

        • Posted January 16, 2018 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

          Actually, defense is with the left hand, offense with the right (for right handers). Castle designers made pathways or stairs wind clockwise upward around walled redoubts, so that attackers going up the pathway would have their left (shield) arm facing away from defenders on the wall above, and thus be more vulnerable to spears/arrows/lances etc. directed at the attackers. (Obviously, castle defense is not the principle behind stairway use in Britain today;)

          • GalvestonTommy
            Posted January 16, 2018 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

            The convention of walking and driving on the left may also have stemmed from early jousting days where the lances were held in the right hand (while on horseback).

            • Posted January 17, 2018 at 7:15 am | Permalink

              If you watch jousting you’ll see that the jouster cross shield to shield and they have to hold the lance across the body to hit the opponent. Thus jousters “drive” on the right.

              The convention of driving on the left is more likely derived from everyday travel where people were likely to be armed with a sword or other weapon but not a shield.

        • BJ
          Posted January 16, 2018 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

          This is what’s done in the US too — right is for standing, left is for passing.

          Well, it’s supposed to be what people do in the US, but so many people don’t have any manners and will stand in the middle or side to side on an escalator, blocking everyone who wants to get by.

        • Posted January 17, 2018 at 4:56 am | Permalink

          Sidewalk was used by Conan Doyle for ‘pavement’ so I think the idea that it is American is later in the 20th century…

      • Posted January 16, 2018 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

        Yes, people do – to the extent it bugs me when they don’t. I’m a stickler for this, but the majority of my compatriots conform.

        Those who don’t seem to be more likely to be from overseas – but then, when I’m in continental Europe, I try hard to remember to cleave right.

      • Jonathan Dore
        Posted January 17, 2018 at 3:08 am | Permalink

        The only place in the UK I ever see this observed with any regularity is on the London Underground, especially on escalators. Everywhere else walking on the pavement is just a free-for-all.

    • ashdeville
      Posted January 16, 2018 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

      Paul

      That’ what you should do but I would never do that on a road lined with pavements. I’d only do it if it was a country road.

      Plonk me down on any high street and tell me to walk a mile in any direction and I will always walk on the left hand pavement relative to the direction I’m going.

      Why? Think it’s related to driving on the left!

  2. Posted January 16, 2018 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    Underground etiquette: you stand on the right on an escalator; but, walk up or down on the left. And really, when walking in stations, people should keep left.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted January 16, 2018 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

      I believe on escalators the etiquette in Canada is to stand right as well and walk up the stairs on the left but we still walk to the right and drive on the right so that may or may not be an exception.

      • Posted January 16, 2018 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

        Parts of Canada used to drive on the left so there may be some historical confusion
        🤔
        Here in sunny NS folks just walk wherever they please most of the time including straight off the sidewalk without even a glance for conflicting traffic!

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted January 16, 2018 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

          I’m not historically confused. None of what I said is inaccurate. Canadians drive on the right. The fact that some parts of Canada drove on the left up the 1940s (Newfoundland, doesn’t change that statement.

          • Gordon
            Posted January 16, 2018 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

            Of course Newfoundland wasn’t part of Canada until 1949 so that can be excused for that. As far as I can discern people in NZ walk on whatever side of the footpath they like (and also stroll onto the road without looking)

            • boggy
              Posted January 17, 2018 at 1:30 am | Permalink

              In NZ where wearing helmets when cycling is compulsory, Mauori kids get round this problem by riding on the sidewalk.

              • bundorgarden
                Posted January 17, 2018 at 2:27 am | Permalink

                You cant be a NZer if you spell Maori like that!

              • boggy
                Posted January 17, 2018 at 4:46 am | Permalink

                True, I’m not a Kiwi.

          • Posted January 17, 2018 at 9:41 am | Permalink

            Nobody especially me said that you personally are historically confused. It was meant as a humorous aside. Please accept my apologies for the unintended insult.
            Nova Scotia stopped driving on the left sometime in the 1920s some however still do!

      • Ken Phelps
        Posted January 16, 2018 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

        Diana is correct, but it is not an exception. It is directly analogous to driving – at least for those who are not members of the Anti-Destination League. The left of the escalator is the fast lane (passing lane) and the right is for going slow, ie. standing. Like proper lane awareness when driving though, this is a consideration more honoured in the breach than in the observance.

    • Posted January 16, 2018 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

      It bugs me when perfectly healthy stand still on escalators. It makes them slower than staircases.

      You can pass lazy gits on the left but the escalator passing in the opposite direction is usually to the right of you.

      • Posted January 16, 2018 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

        It’s like taking the lift down one floor.

        • Posted January 16, 2018 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

          I can just about understand it on escalators going up – particularly if it’s a long one – but going down they have gravity on their side.

          • Posted January 16, 2018 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

            Some of us have bad knees and they are particularly bad going down stairs.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted January 16, 2018 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

        Sorry but some of us look healthy but can’t manage stairs. I take the elevators because something has been wrong with me since I had cancer. I’m not lazy because I don’t take stairs….I actually worked all through my radiation treatment so I think I’m a lot less lazy than most!

        • Posted January 16, 2018 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

          I don’t doubt that there is some proportion of escalator users that have a disability. What I find difficult to believe is that at any one time there are half a dozen of them on every elevator.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted January 16, 2018 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

            I don’t have a disability. I find I can’t walk up stairs. My point is you may look at them and think they are lazy but there are many people who have issues that you wouldn’t notice including migraines and other chronic pain, mobility issues, MS,all sorts of things. Taking an escalator and being judged after struggling through normal activities is really shitty to endure.

            • Posted January 16, 2018 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

              How are migraines and other chronic pain, mobility issues and MS not disabilities?

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted January 16, 2018 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

                They are. But you said I was disabled. I’m not. I’m still able to walk along normally but I can’t do stairs. This doesn’t make me disabled. I do get chronic migraines as well. I am also not considered disabled though it is a disability. There is a very clear legal difference. But the point is it is a judgmental thing to think everyone that looks healthy is just lazy for taking an elevator or escalator. There are many people who are quite unwell that need to even though they appear fine.

            • Posted January 16, 2018 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

              My recent concussion and the long recovery made me, as I told the nurses and PTs: “Very empathetic and aware of people with disabilities — especially those that are not visible!”

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted January 16, 2018 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

                Oh yes a concussion is a long recovery sometimes and it isn’t at all obvious. I especially hate it when people snicker when I take the elevator because they think it’s a funny thing that I’m not taking the stairs. I wonder if they’d like me to point out someone in a wheelchair for them to laugh at or if they’d enjoy seeing a blind person trip too.

            • bric
              Posted January 17, 2018 at 4:33 am | Permalink

              Diana, I don’t know if you have experienced this, but some badly overlit metal escalators and travelators produce a strobing effect that triggers migraines for me. I can only use them by standing still and looking away from the treads. And as mentioned above if you have arthritic/rheumatic knees or ankles walking up is actually less painful than walking down.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted January 17, 2018 at 10:27 am | Permalink

                My migraines are mostly triggered by certain foods (which I avoid as I identify them & I think I’ve got that figured out now) and weather pressure changes. I take beta blockers as a preventative which has cut down on my migraine attacks a lot but they are still fairly frequent.

          • Michael Waterhouse
            Posted January 16, 2018 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

            The steps on escalators are not designed to be ascended like steps.
            They are a different size and proportion.

            I take all stairs two at a time and wouldn’t have a problem, but, many might.

            Plus, it is safer to hold on and stand.

      • chris moffatt
        Posted January 16, 2018 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

        Why have an escalator at all then if you want to make everybody walk anyways? Besides you can’t tell who’s healthy or not by appearance.

      • Craw
        Posted January 16, 2018 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

        In crowded tube stations the crowds clear better if everyone stands on the escalator, both left and right.

        • Posted January 16, 2018 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

          How do you figure? If one stream of people (the ones climbing the escalator on the left) are moving and one is not, wouldn’t that necessarily be faster then if both streams were stationary?

          • Craw
            Posted January 16, 2018 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

            Reduces the number of people who can use the escalator per minute. The effect is particularly strong when people walk, as they do, at different speeds. See the article I have linked.

            • Craw
              Posted January 16, 2018 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

              Plus of course, you don’t have two streams in laminar flow. You have turbulence. (If you could actually contrive laminar flow then it would be faster to walk. But standing still is a case of laminar flow.)

            • Posted January 16, 2018 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

              The less time people spend on an elevator the more people it can carry in the same period of time.

              If an escalator takes 30 seconds to reach the ground and it can hold 20 people at a time then it will deliver 40 stationary passengers every minute.

              If they are walking down the escalator and it takes them 15 seconds to reach the bottom it can carry twice as many people per minute.

              • Craw
                Posted January 16, 2018 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

                You are rejecting the evidence, which is clear. And you are posing an unreal hypothetical: that crowds of people can on an escalator actually achieve laminar flow. They can’t, except by standing still. Of course if everyone on the escalator ran at 100 mph perfectly synchronized with each other step for step of course that would be faster. Unachievable.

          • Posted January 17, 2018 at 7:22 am | Permalink

            If everybody walked up the escalators on both sides it would be faster. But a lot of people are unwilling to walk up the escalators for a variety of reasons (e.g. disability, lack of fitness, laziness) which leads to queuing for the right hand side and the left hand side being permanently under capacity.

        • Craw
          Posted January 16, 2018 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

          “An experiment in 2015 at the station found that standing on both sides of an escalator reduced congestion by about 30 percent.”

          Walking on an (longish) escalator reduces its capacity. Of course there are safety issues too.

          • Posted January 16, 2018 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

            COOL! Learn something new every day. thanks

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted January 16, 2018 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

            The takeaway from this seems to be that walkers board the escalator at a lower rate than standers. (If they boarded at the same rate, then the queue of people waiting to board would move just as fast as in the case where everybody stands. The length of the escalator should have no effect on that.)

            It’s not clear whether this slower boarding rate is because walkers need more time to board or simply because there are fewer of them. Needing more time seems hard to square with the fact that walkers move away from the boarding point faster than standers. It would be interesting to see if the results hold up for different values of walker/stander ratio.

            I don’t follow the argument about laminar flow since (safety concerns aside) it seems that a traffic jam in the walker lane can’t be worse than a second stander lane.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted January 16, 2018 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

              Agreed, Gregory. I do not believe that article.

              It could only be true if there are too many standers for the one side of the elevator and not enough walkers to load the other side to its capacity. It may well be that when the crowd approaching the elevator is over-capacity, standers jam on to both sides and then of course the walkers are forced to stand because standers ahead are blocking them. Analogous to a traffic jam on a motorway.aa

              cr

              • Posted January 17, 2018 at 6:24 am | Permalink

                Can you walk a stairway at the same spacing as people are arrayed while riding up or down an escalator? I doubt that very highly. Grab a couple of friends and try it.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted January 17, 2018 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

                You don’t need to maintain the same spacing, you just need to maintain optimal boarding rate.

                Think of it this way: the walkers are effectively riding an escalator that moves two or three times as fast as the standers. So if they board at the same rate, the spacing between walkers will naturally be two or three times that of the standers (because they move away from the boarding point faster). That’s plenty of room for walkers to walk comfortably.

                Boarding the escalator is the bottleneck where things get backed up. So getting people aboard efficiently is what it’s all about. The fact that walkers get more spaced out after boarding is irrelevant to that.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted January 18, 2018 at 12:44 am | Permalink

                Thanks, Gregory, for putting that point better than I could.

                cr

      • GBJames
        Posted January 16, 2018 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

        I don’t think increasing speed is the main point of escalators.

      • jimbo
        Posted January 17, 2018 at 9:27 am | Permalink

        So, it seems when escalators are adjacent to each other in a building, one is always traveling on the left of the pair in the UK., etc. and on the right in the US, etc.? That’s one answer to the question (or an answer to a slightly different question.)

    • Posted January 16, 2018 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

      It was definitely walk on the left in the tube system in our recent experience in the UK.

      I really confused people when I’d reactively move right.

  3. Christine Janis
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    I do find that people walk on the left in the UK. I’m totally adjusted to the difference in driving, but not to the expectations of pedestrians approaching me on the pavement.

    • Luis Servin
      Posted January 16, 2018 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

      Absolutely. I did my postdoc in the UK, in an insitute that had narrow corridors. I used to bump into people approaching me all the time, as I insctinctively took my right and they took their left. It took me some time to get used to taking my left to avoid a collision!!!

  4. Claudia Baker
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    A couple of years ago, I spent some time in Darwin in No. Australia. People did indeed walk on the left there. It took a little while to get used to, as I was walking around the city.

  5. Posted January 16, 2018 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    In the UK, when walking on roads with cars we walk on the right to see what is coming. In corridors or walkways we tend to walk on the left.

  6. Tyler Lane
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    I’m American and have lived in the UK, South Africa, and now Australia, all of which drive on the left. I found in the UK people generally walk on the right, and South Africa is a mishmash; for safety, it seems like most people drive when they can. In Australia (and I’ve been told the same about New Zealand), we tend to walk on the left.

    I think the reason for the difference is that the UK is surrounded by right-side driving countries and has a lot of Americans passing through. That’s enough people to make a different pedestrian convention. When you’re in London, crosswalks tell you which way to look. On the other hand, the antipodes are pretty far away, so they’re pedestrian patterns may be pretty uninterrupted.

    • Posted January 16, 2018 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

      As an Australian who has lived in the US, UK and continental Europe my summary is that
      * the convention – and safest thing to do is to walk on the same side as you would drive. It’s safer because then kerbside footpath pedestrians are facing and aware of the road traffic

      * huge numbers of tourists/migrants from opposing-convention countries make the convention harder. That more and more are also facedown looking at screens makes it even harder to dodge.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted January 16, 2018 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

      Yes, it’s the same in NZ. We walk on the left, keep left in supermarket aisles etc, the same way we drive. I don’t think anyone thinks about it. It’s automatic.

      • Posted January 17, 2018 at 6:25 am | Permalink

        Yes, this matched my experience in countries where the driving is on the “wrong side” 🙂 .

  7. stentor61
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    On rural roads in the UK, with no pavements/sidewalks, pedestrians are supposed to walk on the right, so they have a good view of the traffic passing close by, and they can hop onto the verge if they need to. Walking on the left would mean traffic passing close by would approach the pedestrian from behind, with a higher risk of accident.

    • Posted January 16, 2018 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

      Cycling is an oddity. I haven’t done it since a kid but even with a child’s low sense of mortality I didn’t like the idea of cars driving behind me. Instinctively I think if cycling as more akin to walking than driving. Same with horse riding. Having a car driving up from behind must be unnearving for a horse.

      • Posted January 16, 2018 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

        Three reasons why cyclists should never ride against vehicle traffic; closing speeds, pedestrians (who are walking against traffic) and the fact that almost no driver looks in the direction of travel when turning into a roadway. This last is also one reason why cyclists should not ride on sidewalks.

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted January 16, 2018 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

          I’ll add a fourth: pedestrians crossing one-way streets and looking in the direction of oncoming traffic.

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted January 16, 2018 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

      Can be a problem on country roads with plenty of bends and no pavements.

      I was taught to walk on the right in general; but to switch to the outside curve of the road on right-hand bends to give motorists more time to see me (and v.v.)

      • JoanL
        Posted January 16, 2018 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

        Interesting point about the curves. I consider it safer to walk on the inside of a curve since it’s easier for a driver to move out than in while negotiating the curve.

  8. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    I’ve noticed that Asian tourists in Seattle seem to prefer walking on the left, so I surmise that’s how they do it at home.

    • Posted January 16, 2018 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

      They would be Japanese tourists, rather than mainland East Asians who drive/walk on the right.

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted January 16, 2018 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

        I suspect many of them are from Hong Kong.

  9. Posted January 16, 2018 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    In swimming, it’s conventional to swim CW for circle swimming in US. In UK and Australia, to my knowledge, they swim CCW for circle swimming. That is particularly odd when you think about handedness for breaststroke and butterfly turns when the individual swimmer may favor a specific direction which may not be consistent with the country they were born. Ah determinism….cf. previous post.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted January 16, 2018 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

      I have a vague memory of swimming CW in NZ,i.e. we keep left there too, though I wouldn’t bet my life on it.

    • Jake Sevins
      Posted January 17, 2018 at 9:06 am | Permalink

      Kevin: I swam in high school, NCAA in college and now swim masters. We always swim CCW (ie, stay right) and it’s the convention in every club and every pool I’ve seen. I’m in the US.

  10. Posted January 16, 2018 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Pretty much yes but whether those rules are followed is another story. My school was always telling the pupils to walk on the left.

  11. pkiwi
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Lambton Quay in Wellington it is ‘keep left’ for pedestrians. When cruise ships are in town there are Northern Americans dazedly wandering into the wrong walking lane. But it could be the wind blowing them there.

  12. Stephen Barnard
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    When I was in New Zealand last winter a dangerous habit I found difficult to break was, when crossing a street, looking left for oncoming traffic. That’s the correct thing to do in the US and other countries where drivers use the right lane, but suicidal when drivers use the left lane.

    • Posted January 17, 2018 at 6:28 am | Permalink

      Yes. Whenever I’m outside the US, I consciously force myself to STOP, and then look in both directions.

      The “Look Right” signs on the pavements in London are quite helpful as reminders as well!

  13. Posted January 16, 2018 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    Did stagecoach men sit in the left – and if so how did they whip the horses without tangling the whip in baggage on top of the cabin?

    • Posted January 16, 2018 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

      Not sure if this is serious question, but Google images of stagecoaches show the driver is on the right, so his right hand whip ought to be clear of the baggage.

    • Stuartg
      Posted January 18, 2018 at 1:19 am | Permalink

      In one of his books, Bill Bryson described the origin of driving on the right hand side of the road in America.

      From memory, all horse drawn wagons were originally driven from the middle of the vehicle. Drivers sat over the centre (center?) of the road and had to negotiate on which side of the road to pass another vehicle.

      Then a wagon manufacturer, I think it may have been Chevrolet, built a very popular wagon with a driver seat on the left instead of in the middle. The drivers of these tended to remain over the centre of the road but the wagons now tended to be on the right hand side of the road…

      Other manufacturers copied.

      I’ve no knowledge of why the UK should drive on the left, but NZ and Oz originally imported both road laws and right hand drive vehicles from the “mother country” which explains their driving on the left.

      I live in a rural community in NZ. There’s not enough pedestrian traffic to matter which side of the pavement/sidewalk a person walks on – it’s very likely they’re the only pedestrian!

  14. Charles Phillips
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    Yes! I was cycling home from work a while back and saw another cyclist approaching me on the bike path. I instinctively moved to the left (I live in Wales) and, to my consternation he moved in the same direction. I moved further to my left and so did he. We ran out of bike path pretty quickly and crashed into each other. I leapt from the tangle of bikes, about to give him a proper mouthful and he said something in heavily accented English. Turns out he was Polish, he was instinctively moving to the side Poles drive on. We apologised to each other shook hands and I left having learnt a lesson.

  15. Bruce Swanney
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    On city sidewalks where there is two way pedestrian traffic – Yes (Kiwi)

  16. Szymon
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    You mean on the footpaths? 😉 Here in Ireland it seems to just be a scattered free-for-all…

  17. Tony
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Here in Belfast, Northern Ireland, there’s certainly no “rule” about walking on the left/right…in fact it’s usually chaos. However, it is strongly suggested, particularly at night, that when you’re walking on a road with no pavement (sidewalk) you’re supposed to walk in the direction of oncoming traffic.

    • Posted January 17, 2018 at 6:30 am | Permalink

      I think you meant in your last sentence, walk on the side of the oncoming traffic, yes?

  18. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    I’m not in a good condition to comment on the “natural” behaviour of Brits. But we have got tediously (chosen word) used to this sort of Q at work.
    When you have a crew composed of literally dozens of nationalities, with a constantly changing composition, and with stairways being essential parts of the “safety case” of the installation, you don’t leave this to chance. Most installations have signs in multiple languages saying “walk on the (side of choice)”. Some use red/ green paint on the risers of the stairways. All ways, you design for the case of someone who arrived 7 hours ago, is jet lagged, half asleep, and thinks they’re on the continent they left yesterday. And the lights are out, and the tannoy is saying “lifeboat stations! This is not a drill!! Buzzt bzzzt!!”

    When we had to consider (after a complete FSCK of a boat drill. 48 minutes until a consistent body count!) this adding literally illiterate staff into the mix, we put arrows and signs on every landing of every stairway. Which was fixed for the vessel, from then.
    By utter coincidence (assisted by Chinese welders) the boats accommodation stairways had downwards people on the inside and upwards people on the outside. Which is insane. But after consideration, we decided against changing it. But we did improve the signage.
    tl;dr version : read the local signs. Then if youre in a crowd that disobeys the signs, live with it. There is *no* standard.
    FWIW, when ceding right of passage in an unclear situation, I cede, and indicate to the oncoming person by extending a hand towards them, then beckoning with all fingers repeatedly curling towards me. And even that is capable of misinterpretation.

  19. Posted January 16, 2018 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    I am impressed by the high number of responses to this question. I hope people don’t think this hard while actually walking or they’ll risk an accident.

  20. Steve Pollard
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    I had to think about this one (and note my own behaviour walking through town today).

    I observe that I tend to walk on the side of the pavement nearer to the traffic, regardless of which direction I am going. Why? I think it might go back to the days when I was told that a gentleman always walks so as to shield his lady companion from the dirt, fumes and puddles on the highway.

    Whether this makes me a gentleman or a superannuated old fart I hesitate to say.

    • Posted January 17, 2018 at 5:01 am | Permalink

      You were well brung up! I was taught the same, however one should otherwise walk to the right of the lady thus keeping your sword arm free to swipe at varlets. That is why we keep to the left. Napoleon changed this on the continent I seem to recall {{citation lacking}}

  21. James Walker
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Having moved to Australia from Canada, I make an effort to walk on the left, and most people follow this rule. But you get a lot of people walking on the right, as you do people in North America walking on the left, which drives me bonkers.

  22. Randall Schenck
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    I am not sure anyone actually answered the question. Talk about getting lost in the fog. I agree that here in the U.S. people walk on the right. You see it in stores and at malls. I do not know what they do in the U.K. It was too many years ago. I know I had a car in the U.K. with the steering on the left, as in the U.S. but still had to drive on the left. Somewhat inconvenient when passing but you got use to it.

  23. Posted January 16, 2018 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    Keep to the left in high density foot traffic is the standard in NZ for most part. Of late over multiple years, this rule has become a little raggard around the edges.
    Why? tourist who drive right side? international students? this is my footpath i have right of way cause where we come from it’s the quick and the dead? who knows.
    IIRC back in the 50’s, 60’s there was a centre line on the footpath on Auckland’s downtown main street, Queen St of course, just so you knew which side.
    Our conditioning was so complete.
    I did ‘IIRC’. I found a picture of the centre line after a nice little tour down memory lane.

  24. amyt
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    I lived in Australia for 3.5 years and it is indeed true that this rule applies for sidewalk traffic as well. Walking on the left was much harder for me to learn than keeping to the left when driving. At least with driving having the driver’s wheel on the right helped as the cue (except I did screw up a few times on a roundabout and fortunately there was no oncoming traffic). There is a huge incidence of head on fatalities in the outback where there are only single lane roads. When you see an oncoming vehicle, each vehicle is meant to drive with one wheel off the road (left side) and maintain one wheel on the road (right side). Those accustomed to driving on the right would sometimes panic seeing an oncoming vehicle and steer right, head onto the other vehicle.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted January 16, 2018 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

      When I’m in NZ, I learned to look all ways crossing the road as I found I’d often look the wrong way, expecting traffic to be coming from the opposite direction. Now, no matter what country I’m in, I just look in every direction before crossing the road.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted January 16, 2018 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

        I found exactly that driving in France (I’m used to driving on the left in NZ of course).

        I had no trouble at all remembering to keep right when driving – except when pulling out into a main road, when I instinctively looked for vehicles in the ‘near’ lane to my right and the ‘far’ lane to my left. Same when crossing the road.

        That was the hardest thing to adapt to.

        cr

  25. Geoff Toscano
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    Such a pertinent post for me!

    My wife and I are keen runners, and probably run as often on the continent (mainly Spain) as we do here. I am obsessed by running in such a way as to give priority to pedestrians according to the side of the road on which one drives in the respective country we are in. It isn’t by any means a universal. People out walking tend not to worry too much, though even so convention seems to apply most of the time. My wife, however, doesn’t drive, and hasn’t the obsessive ‘correct’ path syndrome that I have, so I’m always shouting ‘right’ (or left) and being reprimanded accordingly.

    But absolutely, pavement (sidewalk) positioning seems dictated primarily by driving side of the road, though I wouldn’t argue that there are many other factors.

  26. Norbert
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    En France marcher à droite, à gauche qui s’en soucie? Mais toujours derrière une jolie femme (enfin cela dépend des goûts il faut de tout pour faire un monde)

  27. Posted January 16, 2018 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    I think they do. When I was in England I bumped into people in the supermarket because I instinctively swerved right whereas the Brits swerved left.

  28. W.Benson
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    In Brazil, where driving is on the right, I have not seen any preference. People walk on either side of the path, sidewalk, aisle, etc. Many people do not drive.

  29. David Duffy
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    In Australia, yes tend leftward. In downtown Brisbane at one time, they even put a dividing white line down some footpaths. However, this was less obvious 40 years ago, I think.

  30. David
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    In Japan, yes, if the sidewalk can accommodate pedestrians and no on narrow streets with no sidewalks. I

  31. rom
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    Not quite on topic but related.

    I have lived in Canada for 30 years now. There is no way on Earth I could get on a bicycle from the right side.

    • Posted January 17, 2018 at 6:35 am | Permalink

      I’ve lived in the USA for most of my life and I always mount my bicycle from the left side.

      • rom
        Posted January 17, 2018 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

        So you walk onto the road to mount your bike? Interesting.

    • Posted January 17, 2018 at 7:37 am | Permalink

      All bicycles are designed for riding on the left. i.e. no matter which side of the road you use, the chain is on the right meaning in drive on the right countries, if you are dismounted at the side of the road facing the correct direction of travel, you have the chain with all its oiliness right next to you.

      The greatest car maker of all time Etore Bugatti made all his cars in right hand drive. Therefore everybody should really be driving on the left.

  32. Florian
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

    I just got home from a short trip to Taipei. They drive on the right side of road there. But i was mostly impressed with how everyone stood on the right side of escalators and left the left side clear for anyone that was in a hurry and wanted to walk up or down. It seems to be totally ingrained in the Taiwanese mind that this is how you do on an escalator.

    • Thanny
      Posted January 16, 2018 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

      Many societies of the Orient have a substantial vein of collectivism running through them.

      They tend to think more about how a behavior will affect the group rather than themselves before considering whether or not that behavior is advisable.

  33. Hempenstein
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    Sweden drove on the left till 1967 when they famously switched in the wee hours one morning after years of planning. When I was there I didn’t experience any pedestrian oddness, so if they used to walk on the left, they switched that, too. Any authentic Swedes know if that happened?

    (The one thing that didn’t switch was the Stockholm subways since, being a sealed system, there was no need.)

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 16, 2018 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

      Your mention of Stockholm subways reminds me – curiously enough, French main line railways (including the TGV lines) all run on the left. Most surprising (well, it surprised the heck out of me when I noticed). The Paris Metro runs on the right, though.

      cr

  34. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

    In New Zealand we drive on the left.

    On the wider busy footpaths downtown, yes, people do tend to walk on the left, though the ‘rule’ is poorly observed. Decades ago there used to be a white line painted down the middle of the footpath for that reason.

    On escalators, stand on the left, pass on the right – again, very poorly observed.

    And these days, in many places, the footpath is divided by a white line into ‘pedestrian’ and ‘bicycle’ lanes, which is even more poorly observed.

    As misinterpreted by several commenters – on country roads without footpaths, all things being equal one should walk on the right (in NZ) facing oncoming traffic, but things rarely are equal, more often there’s a wider verge one side or the other so that’s the obvious and safer side to walk.

    (In Paris, I noted, on some of the boulevards, e.g. Boulevard de Magenta near the Gare du Nord, there is a bike lane marked on the edge of the footpath and it is actively used – as a pedestrian you have to look both ways before crossing it because bicycles *will* be riding along it. That said, all the riders appeared to be tolerant of wayward tourists. I didn’t notice any particular ‘keep left / keep right’ tendency for pedestrians though.)

    cr

  35. Michael Fisher
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

    Some chap named Paco Underhill [an environmental psychologist, author, and the founder of market research and consulting company Envirosell] discovered that the majority of people will walk to their right when they enter a space. This is known as being the “invariant right” & is a result of most people being right-handed. Retailers, it is claimed, keep this in mind when designing store layouts & product placement.

    He also came up with “Butt Brush” where you must have wide aisles for female clothing that requires inspection – if the aisle is narrow women will not pause to inspect for fear of the “Butt Brush” as people flow past!

    My preferences [UK]:
    I like to shop in stores clockwise & thus I keep to the left so I can see ’round corners to my right
    I like to keep to the left in corridors
    I like to walk on right hand pavements, but keeping to the outside near the road [to the left]

  36. Posted January 17, 2018 at 12:41 am | Permalink

    I live near Cambridge (the original one in England) which is a tourist hot spot. My observation, which is mine, is that people in Cambridge tend to mill around aimlessly, often walking out into the middle of the road to take photographs. But that’s just the tourists 🙂

    When I was a student, I lived in London. In the weeks immediately before Christmas, the area around Oxford Circus would become very crowded with pedestrians, because it’s where Oxford Street and Regent Street, two of London’s major shopping streets, meet. The police used to organise one-way systems for the pedestrians, to prevent dangerous crushes developing.

  37. David Duncan
    Posted January 17, 2018 at 12:49 am | Permalink

    People here tend to walk on the left, but you can’t rely on it.

  38. Posted January 17, 2018 at 2:19 am | Permalink

    I have driven and walked in Canada, the US and Europe. I have also lived in several countries that drive on the left including the UK and several Commonwealth countries.

    In all of these countries I observed that almost everyone follows the rule that pedestrians walk facing the oncoming traffic.

    So the answer is yes, pedestrians walk on different sides of the road depending on the rules for vehicles.

  39. bundorgarden
    Posted January 17, 2018 at 2:32 am | Permalink

    Well, Having been brought up in NZ and now living in Australia, I can say that yes! it is true. People tend to keep to the left on the footpath/sidewalk (what ever you like to call it). However this breaks down in cities like Sydney (eg in Chinatown) where there are many people from countries for whom walking on the left is not the norm.
    As a child in Auckland, I can remember that the footpaths actually had a white line painted down the middle, just like on the street, to guide people as to what was the correct side.

  40. PS
    Posted January 17, 2018 at 3:15 am | Permalink

    In India (left hand drive), the law is to walk on either sidewalk (when available), or otherwise, as close to the edge of the road while facing oncoming traffic: i.e. on the extreme right.

    But a lot of people just assume that what is good for the goose must be good for the gander, and just walk on the left when a sidewalk is not available.

    • Posted January 17, 2018 at 7:45 am | Permalink

      left hand drive

      Slight terminology point.

      “Left hand drive” – at least in Britain – means the steering wheel is on the left and that the car is most suited to driving on the right hand side of the road. In India they (allegedly) drive on the left, so right hand drive cars are more more suitable.

      If “left hand drive” means something different elsewhere it’s probably best to avoid using the term in discussions like these.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted January 17, 2018 at 8:01 am | Permalink

        Yes, that’s a rich source of potential confusion. British cars are right hand drive and American (and French) ones are left hand drive. The opposite to the side of the road they actually drive on. At least in British terminology.

        cr

      • PS
        Posted January 20, 2018 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

        You are right, thanks. I should have said “left hand traffic”. Card have sterring wheels on the right, and people drive on the left side of the road.

        The point was that in India at least, the law is that when a sidewalk is not available, pedestrations are supposed to walk on the side of the road that is oppposite to that of vehicular traffic. It makes sense because otherwise the vehicular traffic would be behind the pedestrian’s back.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted February 6, 2018 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

          I believe that is, or used to be, the rule in Britain too.

          cr

  41. John Ottaway
    Posted January 17, 2018 at 4:38 am | Permalink

    I always tend to walk on the outside of the pavement, nearest the road, unless there is definite flow

    I’m genuinely not aware of a left or right bias on the streets, the same was as on escalators or road traffic

    Ironically, if you pilot a canal boat, that is on the right so that boats pass “Port to Port”. Planes that are on a collision course are also trained to turn right (starboard)

  42. Posted January 17, 2018 at 4:58 am | Permalink

    When men pass women in a crowded space they incline their bodies towards them generally, whereas women incline away from men…

  43. Barney
    Posted January 17, 2018 at 5:25 am | Permalink

    What this thread needs is some Douglas Adams and John Lloyd:

    DROITWICH (n.) A street dance. The two partners approach from opposite directions and try politely to get out of each other’s way. They step to the left, step to the right, apologise, step to the left again, apologise again, bump into each other and repeat as often as unnecessary.

    The Meaning of Liff: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Ng7ntKoPosMC&pg=PA43&lpg=PA43

    Slightly related: all entries there starting with “Corrie”. British etiquette and social embarrassment are never-ending sources of comedy.

  44. Mike
    Posted January 17, 2018 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    If your foolish you walk on the left, normally if there is no pavement, you walk on the right ,facing the oncoming traffic.

  45. jimbo
    Posted January 17, 2018 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    A number of people have commented how on escalators the convention everywhere seems to be stand on the right, pass on the left, but what is more germane to the discussion is how two escalators *moving in opposite directions are situated with respect to each other* (like lanes of traffic.) In the US in most instances I can think of one rides on the escalator to the right, with the escalator moving in the opposite direction on your left, whereas I’m guessing it’s the reverse in the UK, etc.? Can anyone confirm?

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 17, 2018 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

      In New Zealand (drive on the left), yes escalators are generally on the left.

      cr

  46. Posted January 17, 2018 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    I’m not from a place with a drive on left-side-of-road bit, but I seem to remember a sign in the London Underground that said “keep left” where a “keep right” would have been typical here in Canada. Is my memory faulty? I can’t remember any other details.


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