Walking New York – What’s your Walking Story?

In New York, pedestrians rule, and that is as it should be. When we cross the street, in mighty droves of thirty and forty at a time, the drivers know to stand down. Unlike in small cities and suburbs, they can’t just bear down on the walking folk, while making that right turn, and expect us to recede back to the sidewalk. We’re moving as a pack, and they have to stop.

In midtown Manhattan, almost every driver understands this. When drivers block the box, and the walk sign says Walk, they have to sit there, humiliated, blocking traffic, while we walk around their steaming behemoth, because it is our turn. It’s a terrific feeling to know that at least in Manhattan, walkers usually get the respect (albeit grudging), they deserve.

Usually this uneasy rhythm between walkers and drivers works as an organic people mover. There are always exceptions.

Last week, heading South on Third Avenue, I joined about twenty pedestrians in the street, as we prepared to cross at 53rd. It was an oddly quiet period, and although the light was red for us, we were peering in the direction of traffic, thinking we could go anyway. You know how that is.

Just as the rhythm of the group was about to propel us forward, a mimivan taxicab that had been stationary at the curb, started to move in our direction. Like good pedestrians, we all scuttled back onto the sidewalk. The taxi drove so close to the curb, that it made contact with one of the pedestrians, a man in business attire. The taxi was going fast, and then the light changed, just as it hit the man. He was pissed. He wasn’t hurt. He was pissed.

He slammed on the body of the car with his hand and swore at the driver. “You etcetc…” He leaned in through the open passenger window of the cab and shouted, “I want your license plate. I want your medallion number.” Then the driver got out of the taxi, the walker went around to the driver’s side, and the two of them screamed at each other.

I had my notebook in my pocket and wrote down the license of the taxi. I wanted the two people to stop screaming at each other. Since no one had been hurt, the businessman needed to get on with his day, and the cabbie needed to get his next fare. I walked around to the driver’s side, and handed the piece of paper with the license number to the walking man. I didn’t have the medallion number, but he could get that if he wanted to. He thanked me, and we walked off together.

He talked for a while about how angry he was. Then he thanked me and took off. Then another gentleman joined me, and said, “but that guy shouldn’t have been in the street to begin with.”

“I agree with you,”, I said. “But I just wanted them to stop fighting before it escalated.”

Always there are lessons in New York’s walking stories. This one? We pedestrians need to be vigilant about observing the rules. If the traffic is not in our favor, we have to stay on the sidewalk, or really flush with the curb, unless there really are no cars moving. If there is a taxi in the moving lane, simply dealing with a fare or the meter, chances are he is going to start moving shortly, as this one did. So if you see that happening, and he has the light, stay alert.

Walkers should rule in New York. Let’s not exploit the privilege by violating the rules.

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