Daniel House

Landed

Street Rules: Two Old Virtues for The New Pedestrian

 Our Dear Friends (We've been corresponding for some time now, so we feel friends is appropriate),

 It is always polite to dismount one's horse whilst sharing the sidewalk with foot traffic. 

It is always polite to dismount one's horse whilst sharing the sidewalk with foot traffic. 

            Chief amongst Emily Post’s rules for pedestrian behavior are the ideas that we should never call attention to ourselves in any way and we have a duty to ensure the comfort of all those on the street around us at all times. While many of the nuances have evolved over the last century, these virtues are more applicable today than they have been since the end of WWII. As our nation reverses the trend of suburbanization and Best Society returns to urban living, more and more of us are walking on the street once again (or really for the first time).

Being pedestrians means we have far more personal encounters than we did in our cars. The car afforded us relative solitude, apart from the occasional interaction with our drivers; we moved on quickly from the upsetting sound of the horn of another informing us of their displeasure. But when we’re accosted in the street, another’s eyes boring deeply into our own, it’s a much more soul penetrating experience. Having lived in New York where street life never really stopped, as was the case with so many other American cities in the mid 20th century, these gruesome street encounters were minimal. One sensed the city’s inhabitants knew how to behave when walking on the street, because they had done it forever. Living now in Portland, Oregon, where being a bike or foot pedestrian is the newest and greatest thing since sliced bread, the number of street encounters turned ugly seems far greater.

Recently, we moved into a new office in the heart of downtown Portland. On the first day, Alexander, a kind natured gentlemen through and through, was leaning against our building near the street corner, leaving a message on his phone with a client of ours. Suddenly, he was hit in the head with a piece of particle board. Thinking it may have fallen from the awning over head, he naturally looked up. Then he realized a disgruntled pedestrian had thrust the debris at him in malice. To be sure, this is never an appropriate action amongst those of Best Society, and while exemplary, occasions such as this are not all together rare. More frequently, cyclists disobeying traffic laws scream at pedestrians and bang on the hoods of any car crossing their path, generally adding a less than cordial “F*** YOU!” as if the driver or walker woke up that morning hell bent on running over or tripping up bikers. No one is born with the desire of carrying out such an act. The cyclist’s volcanic behavior accomplishes nothing but a growing division between himself and the driving populous, so much that the driver may develop within him a true longing to hit the cyclist.

In each situation mentioned, one of the parties broke both of Mrs. Post’s street rules and formed in the other’s mind a vision of a divided world. If the biker had any sense of etiquette he might have yelled something rather more pleasant, like “on your left,” or chosen to obey the traffic laws in the first place, considering the comfort of all those with whom he shared the street. The particle board wielding maniac would have found another, more appropriate outlet for his frustration.   

Hoping You’re a Kind Pedestrian,

 

Peter and Alexander