Veer Left

BT has managed to get things up and running here once again (not that we really blame him for the outage, which was admittedly systemic and not individual, but we imagined that a rather delayed shockwave resulting from last week’s nearly forgotten quiz might have thrown a kink into something or other), and thus I’m back in the cafe, pondering what of value I can report from this new geographic vantage.

One thing that I’ve discovered is that my years in New York — where I thought I’d become quite the urban pedestrian — did nothing to prepare me for negotiating London sidewalks. A major part of my clumsiness here has to do with the mix of resident and tourist traffic on the walkways, which results in very different types of traffic jams from those in the Big Apple. There, tourists walk slowly; they walk four abreast; they stop in decidedly inconvenient locales to consult maps and guidebooks and generally stare up. The best means of dealing with said tourists is, of course, a muttered snarl (or a snarled muttering) as one dodges quickly around the obstacle.

Here, of course, I’m part of the problem, and it’s a significant one: tourists (like myself) tend to follow their non-UK senses of direction and order by sticking to the right side of walkways, while residents veer left. The jam-ups come, then, not in the slowness of looky-loos walking in the same direction one is headed, but from the imminence of collisions with those headed at you — when I make the mistake of veering right, I veer right into the path of the oncoming Londoner who is properly veering left.

A resident pal insists I’m making too much of this, and suggests that there’s less order in the sidewalks even than that: that the residents have long since adapted to the rightward leaningness of the tourists and have learned to weave, resulting in what appears to be total discombobulation for those who have not yet learned the city’s walking style. Perhaps it’s the crosswalks, with their lovely pavement-level assistance (look left, you fool!), that have led me to expect readability in a phenomenon that is, finally, illegible.


  1. Just beware the zebras (no, not the animals said with an “E” but the silly crosswalks with glowballs that are pronounced “z-ebb-ras”). The one aspect of London pedestrian life I struggled with the most was the trust built around these handy little crosswalks, where they expect you to charge across the street confident in the knowledge that whatever happens to be gunning towards you at the time – taxi, big red bus, motor scooter – will stop to avoid you. Pedestrian “right of way” – it always made me nervous.

    But nothing makes London drivers more steamed than a hesitant pedestrian lingering at the edge of a zebra….

    (And, for those who want to know more about zebras: )

    Have fun in London – my favorite city 🙂

  2. in london a few weeks ago, i found that i derived some sort of immeasurable thrill from weaving through walkway traffic at top speed. which is odd for me, because usually i walk slowly and get annoyed at everyone hurrying for no reason. there’s simply something about the rush in london that is electrifying — at that moment rushing had nothing to do with getting anywhere on time but rather was about the feeling of bouncing off of all these people like we were gas particles in a high pressure balloon.

    in that case, maybe it’s a good thing that you’re bumping into people — it’s all part of the experience, at any rate…

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