Confessions, Life, Open Letters

Lessons In Pedestrian Etiquette.

The past two months have seen my successful integration back into city life and its unique obstacles. In my time as an avid commuter, I have made several observations regarding modes of travel in Toronto. Personally, I prefer to walk wherever possible and avoid the congestion and unfortunate body odor permeating the TTC. (Note: It’s much more pleasant in the wintertime but once summer hits and the sweat starts flowing, believe me you’ll want to avoid the streetcars at all costs.) As much as I adore the flow of foot traffic, I also have a tendency to flash my Metropass and hop on the bus, streetcar or subway whenever I need to travel to work or somewhere a little bit out of the way. I feel this gives me a well-rounded outlook on the realities and tragic lack of general commuter etiquette, whether that commute is by foot or by public transit. As my gift to you, allow me to present my very own set of rules and acceptable behaviors for traveling in our fair city.

PART ONE: THE SIDEWALK.

Ah, yes. Nothing beats the streets, the feel of pavement on your feet. You’re going places, you’re saving the planet with your green attitude and might I say, you look spiffy in those boots. Rain, sleet, snow, hail — none of these ever stopped mail delivery and it sure as hell won’t stop you. And hey, I’m with you! I love taking to the streets and strolling around, finding cute little shops that sell pots and pans I could never afford on my coffee shop wages. If you wander by foot as much as I do, surely you’ve noticed some of the annoying habits of a few wayward pedestrians.

THE LOST BOYS.
Or girls. Or both. You know the type, they come out of the underground lost and unaware that short-stopping on the pavement to read street signs nearly always results in uncomfortable body-proximity, mumbled apologies, and the occasional smushed foot. It’s awkward for everyone when you ease yourself at the slowest possible velocity down the sidewalk in an effort to figure out exactly where you are. It’s Toronto, not Narnia, and it’s actually completely impossible to stay lost here. I offer to these etiquette-violating pedestrians the following solution:

Step to the side.

It’s perfectly fine to be lost in the city, especially when it’s your first time here. It’s not acceptable to stand bewildered in someone’s way when that someone is probably late to some sort of meeting or whatever successful people do during the day. All you have to do when emerging from the subway is step off to the side of the sidewalk until you get your bearings. That way no one will be shooting you knife-looks with their eyes and you’ll still have time to regain your equilibrium.

WRONG SIDE OF THE TRACKS.
These people monopolize the sidewalk by walking straight at you when clearly they should be on the other side. Naturally, there are sometimes extenuating circumstances, such as pulling out to walk past someone who’s considerably slower than you, but in general, I always believed foot traffic followed the same rules of the road as vehicles. From the time I was in primary school, I was taught to walk on the right side of the hallway. When you learn to drive in Canada, you learn to keep to the right side of the road. The same standard should apply to sidewalk foot traffic. If everyone adheres to this simple rule, we can avoid a lot of unnecessary muddy shoes from having to step off the sidewalk due to someone steamrolling down the wrong side.

SIDEWALK HOGS.
And I’m not talking about overweight folks, because I’m not down with that fat-phobic shit. I’m talking about the groups of people walking together who somehow reach the conclusion that it’s perfectly acceptable to run someone off the sidewalk simply because they prefer to walk in rows of three or four. Come on, guys. That’s just a dick move no matter how you slice it. It’s everyone’s sidewalk, you can’t just get all up in it and act like it’s yours. Single file or maybe walk in pairs if the sidewalk is large enough. Be nice.

The biggest sidewalk offenders in my experience are the commuters waiting for buses. Most streetcars have their own designated boarding spot, but buses still stop by the sidewalks and that can pose a huge problem for those on foot. Commuters seem to believe it’s okay for them to spread out in a tight cluster all over the sidewalk as they wait for their bus, rendering that portion of the sidewalk completely useless. More than once I’ve had to step out into traffic in order to get past all the people waiting at the bus stop near my house. That’s not just rude, it’s downright dangerous. Make an effort to clear a path for those not interested in cramming themselves onto a bus with you. Maybe we’ll thank you with a smile and a nod (but probably not because this is a city and crazy people are everywhere. Eye contact is pretty much a no-no).

As a side note, construction brings with it its own set of challenges. Much of Toronto is being developed for condos right now and so many of the sidewalks are blocked off or severely reduced. My rule of thumb is that if there’s wide enough space for both people, simply squeeze by with a friendly “excuse me” and everything will be fine. If the person coming toward you is hauling a suitcase or pushing one of those ugly-yet-incredibly-functional granny carts, let them go first. Your ankles will thank you.

PART TWO: PUBLIC TRANSITIONAL PHASE.

You can get anywhere in Toronto by taking the subway, streetcars and buses. It’s nice to have options if, like me, you don’t have a licence (or a desire to drive). Getting on the TTC, sitting down with a book (if there’s an available seat), rocking out to your iPod, maybe even drinking coffee or eating your breakfast… it’s a pleasant way to travel because you don’t have the responsibility of driving. Back in the day I used to spend my one hour commute writing in my journal, which I believe contributed to the saving of most of my sanity. But just like walking, there are a few commuter habits that drive me up the wall.

BOTTLENECKING THE DOORWAY.
Many of the issues centred around public transit etiquette involve boarding and disembarking from your chosen transit vessel. Everyone is in a rush, so when the doors open they bottleneck themselves into it in an effort to avoid being left behind. This creates a huge problem for the poor folks trying to exit the train. When faced with an aggressive wall of human bodies, you’ve no choice really but to barrel through them with a “SORRY!” hollered back through gritted teeth. And heaven help you if you drop anything, because it’ll be trampled in a matter of seconds. It’s not difficult to stand to the sides and wait for people to exit before trying to shove yourself into the train. Relax, people. There will always be another one.

WHATEVER, I’LL STAND WHERE I WANT.
The first group of offenders are the ones who refuse to move along to the back of the bus. They plant roots near the front of the bus with their granny cart and backpack and make it impossible for more responsible transit riders to pass by and fill up the back of the bus. When I lived in Scarborough, I would take the Eglinton bus every day for work and during rush hour there would be 65 people crammed into the front of the bus and hardly anyone in the back. I would always force my way back there and be the only one standing on the steps, relishing my breathing space. There’s nothing wrong with being at the back of the bus, it’s not high school and the bad kids don’t necessarily sit in the back playing cards and smoking cigs anymore. Moving back also allows you to exit through the rear doors with ease, which in turn eliminates the horrible bottleneck mentioned above.

The second group is the rider who stands directly in front of the doors even when they’re not getting off. They block off the back exit and you have to force yourself around them and their gigantic backpack in order to barely escape before the doors close and you end up having to get off at the next stop and walk back. Shame on you! If you’re not getting off, get out of the way and let others disembark.

THE SEAT NAZI.
It makes my heart sad to see a passenger with a baby tethered to their chest struggling to hang on for dear life as the streetcar heaves and weaves its way through the street. Some conducters have a heavy foot when it comes to the brake and I fear the day I’ll have to be the hero and catch some poor woman’s baby as it flies through the air during a sudden stop. Give that woman your seat. Give your seat to the 800-year-old man shaking like a leaf as he clutches the bar in his gnarled, veiny hand and tries to maintain his balance as the bus goes over bumps as if it’s the bus from Speed. How about the construction worker who looks like she’s about to fall asleep on her feet? Or the man who looks nauseated? And the person carrying a bunch of heavy-looking packages? GIVE THEM YOUR SEAT. Or at least give them the option. Some people will insist they’re getting off soon and then you’ll look like a Good Samaritan AND get to keep sitting. Courtesy is severely lacking in public transit these days.

Traveling in the city doesn’t have to be a lesson in rage. Let’s all try to be a bit more respectful of each other as we make our way through the city and down our different life paths. Being kind, getting out of the way, and not being a douchebag — these are not difficult to achieve. Next time on Commuter Gripes: Cell Phone Loud Talkers, People Who Blast Their Music Out Loud On The Bus and The Benefits Of Putting Your Backpack On The Goddamn Floor.

Travel safe and anger free, fellow pedestrians!

Image Credit: Here.

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