On Being Human

and other ruminations of the rambling sort


Seattle, Washington, USA
September 04
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FEBRUARY 16, 2011 4:41PM

The Lost Art of Peripheral Vision

Rate: 15 Flag

I consider myself a professional pedestrian.

My mother was a fast walker and I spent my childhood trying to match her seemingly effortless, long strides as we powered around our neighborhood. Once I hit my final height of 6'0" I found that I, too, was a fast walker; my size-10 feet pound the pavement with purpose; the sidewalk is my own personal catwalk and I'm the Amazon walking a dangerously purposeful line as I hip-sway to my destination.

I've lived in downtown Seattle for about 10 years and while I've always had access to a car, I find it more enjoyable and efficient to walk and/or take public transit. For the last three years, I've worked in a gigantic office building in the Financial District, which means there's a LOT of people here during the day and many of them come in from the suburbs to work.

Now, watching these swarms of people, it occurs to me that there's not a lot of walking going on in the suburbs because they don't seem to be very good at it. Although, to be fair, while Seattle itself has a lot of pedestrians, I don't know that I'd go so far as to say they know what they're doing either when it comes to navigating sidewalks, doors, elevators, and escalators.

I chalk this up to a seeming lack of peripheral vision.

I could make an analogy about how this applies to our society in numerous ways (politically, energetically, and spiritually), but for today I'm going to focus on how it relates to pedestrianism specifically and my mounting irritation generally.

I just want everyone to pretend like they're a car with functioning mirrors.

Imagine the sidewalk (or any thoroughfare designed for people - like a shopping mall or grocery store) is a freeway. Would you stop suddenly in your lane to gawk at something on the side of the road? Would you cut across two lanes of traffic without first checking your side mirror or deploying your blinker? Would you drive down the left side of the road into oncoming traffic? Of course not.

Yet I see this happen literally dozens of times per day; people who can (apparently) operate a car and get to work cannot for the life of them keep it together when walking in a (mostly) straight line, to say nothing of entering an elevator.

Walk four abreast? Sure, why not? I want to carry on a conversation with my bestie while we go get lunch.

Check my email while crossing the street against a flashing, red hand? Sure, why not? The cars are required by law to watch out for me anyway--I'm in the crosswalk! Fuck cars!

Charge into the elevator the minute the door opens, without first waiting to see if anyone is coming OFF? Sure, why not? I've got a meeting to run!

Hundreds of people ambling along, firm in their belief that I (and all the other people around us) will keep tabs on all active personal-space bubbles, will gladly stop or walk more slowly or give way as they swing their extra large backpack off their shoulder, will gracefully say "No problem" as they cut me off while waiting in line to enter the bus.

Now, don't get me wrong. All the veering and wandering and going the "wrong" direction isn't technically the problem--I'm not the traffic police, after all, and people are certainly at liberty to amble in any direction their hearts desire. My problem is that I don't believe they're interested in taking accountability for where they're going by actually using their eyes and remembering that they're surrounded by other Real People who also have Valid Directional Wants.

I break pedestrian rules and laws when necessary, but that's because I pretend like I'm on the freeway or playing a first-person shooter game. I'm looking ALL AROUND ME for things I might bump into or trip over. I don't put my head down and focus all my attention on my iPhone; even when texting, it's important that I keep my head upright, scanning for potential obstacles. Checking over my shoulders before "changing lanes." It's fun. Like when I used to play Quake 3 Arena.

Because who looks like a complete asshole when they suddenly swerve to enter Starbucks and cut off the person right behind them? The person not using their peripheral vision, that's who.

What's the deal, Peripherally Impaired People? Are the rest of us so miserable that you refuse to sense us RIGHT THERE BEHIND YOU? So boring, so unimportant in the Big Scheme of Your Life that you can't respect the space of those around you and take responsibility for where you put your feet? Is that email really so life altering that you can't be bothered to check your blind sport before you cut me off?

What, no hand wave? No "Excuse me?" Really?

All I'm suggesting is that we all pay a little more attention to what's going on right here, in front of us, and all around us. That we all take accountability for where we put ourselves and how we treat the people around us while we get there. That we acknowledge we are surrounded by real people with actual feelings and desires, who would most certainly appreciate just a small serving of consideration.

I know I would.

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A wonderful little essay on the fine art of pedestrianism! Who would have thunk such a thing could be so thought-provoking?

Perhaps a decline is civility generally contributes to the problem. Perhaps peoples' brains are simply overloaded. I suspect, although I surely don't know, that folks in 19th Century London or 18th Century Paris did not walk this way.

Size 10 is impressive.
At least they're walking....???
Perhaps this is why the denizen there call Puyallup Pileup.lol
Amen, sister! These are some of my biggest pet peeves. I'm a fast walker, too, and I get SO frustrated by all the people who stop right in front of you on the middle of a busy sidewalk, plow right into you while too busy looking at their cell phones, cut right out in front of you, and etc. Just get some peripheral vision - or situational awareness, as I've always called it! Rated
I am so with you. Also I am 6 foot 3, so a wet day is a nightmare for me as I have to contend with the pointy bits around the edges of umbrellas wielded by shorter people (which is most people). Another pet hate of mine when I lived in Scotland was the little old ladies hauling these little wheeled shopping cart things behind them. When they did sharp turns to look at something in a shop window I might manage to avoid them, but then ended up falling over the wheelie thing.
At age 57 I am always amazed by how slowly as well as inattentively young people tend to walk these days. Living in LA I am of course surrounded by people used to having the cars stop for them. Just let them go to the UK and try ambling into the traffic against the lights the way they do here. The only thing that will save their lives is the reluctance of drivers to pick on such an easy target. They would rather nail someone like me who uses his rugby training to bodyswerve out of trouble.
Maybe you should carry an air horn while you are walking.
Do you think that narcissism plays a role in this? I do. I also like to walk in downtown Seattle and have noticed many times that it's my responsibility to watch where I'm going and watch where you're (not you) going. Rated!
A very amusing piece with some quirky observations.
I agree with you. Whenever I see someone checking their mobile phone while walking across a pedestrian crossing I want to slap the thing out of their hand!
Change the city and I could have written this. Loved it.~r
Great post! I am 51 years old, and it infuriates me when, on my way to work, people younger than me walk so slow, distracted by their phones and other gadgetry, and slowing down everyone else behind them...

It is almost as if these people had no happiness to be alive! And the ones that waddle are the worst! They are outright dangerous.
I walk all the time but in a very small town. I am also 5'3" and small.
It is the car drivers who try to kill me that matters. I might as well be invisible. They turn left or right with me in the cross walk.
But I do urge everyone to walk. Walking is good for you. Physically and spiritally good.
Okay, from one tall, fast-walking girl to another, loved this piece. Especially how rational and calm you were at the start and then how you let your intense irritation take over until we could practically feel your blood pressure rise . Related to all of it, anger included. Happy walking...
Thank you all for the comments and shares - I'm so glad I took the plunge here at OS and joined the conversation.

@Indelible Ink - I can't tell you how many times I've had people cut me off like you described; I've stopped swerving and now make it a point to give them a taste of my shoulder. I figure it pulls them back to Now and allows me to blow off a bit of steam; maybe not a win for them, but I certainly feel better.

@Roger - Yes, I believe narcissism does play a role; the narcissism of believing that what you're doing at any given point is way more important than what the people around you are doing. Which results in a lot of tunnel vision, blinders, whatever. Seems not very many people try to see the forest anymore, just their tree.