Pedestrian Fast Lanes Are Being Considered, but Are They Really a Good Thing?

If you’re the type of person whose leisure stride is considered power-walking by most other people you share the pavement with, you’ve inevitably run into a dead-end, consisting of two people walking side-by-side at the same (slow) pace.
Pedestrian on sidewalk 1 photo
Photo: Florin Profir
Clearing your throat a few times does wonders in these situations, but do it too often and you’ll soon have to stop at a drug store for some sore throat drops. And then those two will pass in front and you’re back to square one.

Of course, if you’re one of those two people in question, you have no idea what we’re on about. But the decision to have pedestrian fast-lanes would affect everybody.

According to a research project commissioned by UK retailer Argos, 47% of British pedestrians find slow walkers to be the most aggravating aspect of high-street shopping. At the same time, 30% would be very happy with a fast lane system for those who are in a hurry.

Based on the study’s results, Argos got to work and launched a one-week pilot for a phone-free fast lane through a shopping complex in Liverpool. That’s OK, but there are a few issues that need addressing.

First of all, who will enforce the new rules in case somebody decides to use a smartphone on the newly created track? Is there a pedestrian “fast-lane” police, or does it all rely on common sense? And if it’s the latter, then why feel the need for these fast lanes in the first place? Isn’t it simpler to pay attention to the people who are in a hurry, and just make room for them while you gaze at the shops?

Second of all, there is a reason bicycle lanes are separated from the sidewalk: pedestrians and fast moving things - including other pedestrians - don’t mix well. Creating fast lanes will only make those using them (who were already a little pissed off, remember) feel more entitled to look condescending at those who, for some reason (mostly phones), are not paying attention to their special corridors. It encourages segregation, and that shouldn’t be something on any city planer’s agenda.

Applying traffic rules on pedestrian turf is not a good idea. What’s next, one way sidewalks? Right turn only crossroads for pedestrians? Regardless of how the Argos experiment goes, let’s keep sidewalks as chaotic as they are right now, OK?

The sad news is that similar schemes have been tried in other cities across the world, including Washington DC. We’re going to have to wait and see if it catches on, but in the meantime, do your bit and try to walk with the phone in your face as little as possible.
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About the author: Vlad Mitrache
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"Boy meets car, boy loves car, boy gets journalism degree and starts job writing and editing at a car magazine" - 5/5. (Vlad Mitrache if he was a movie)
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