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Being a pedestrian: not just for thrill seekers

By Amanda Marcotte
Saturday, September 26, 2009 18:09 EDT
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When you live next to a college campus, especially if you live very close to one of the largest football stadiums in the country, you either learn to tolerate the crowds of football fans you get 7 Saturdays every fall, or you even come to love it. I fall firmly into the the love-it zone, especially since Longhorn fans are mostly known for their law-abiding ways. They don’t try to steal your parking spot, in other words. But the crowds and the noise are something I can get behind. Having the neighborhood stuffed with tailgaters makes me happy. I like to see people having fun. I chose to live by a campus because I like the youth and the energy and the fact that no one calls the cops if your party lasts past midnight. (Also, the walkability, the abundance of shade, and the tons of bars and restaurants that are right here.) Swarms of happy, boisterous, and even drunk people milling around doesn’t bother me one bit. It reminds me of fall, and compels me to go outside and enjoy the perfect fall weather in Austin. I’m not into sports, but I appreciate that other people channel their urge to pick sides and get really passionate about their side in a way that is largely harmless. More sports, less war, and all that.

I love it all, except the suburbanites. Not all suburbanites—I’m sure many blend well with the locals, and it’s not those that I’m bitching about. But there’s a huge percentage of people who come in from out of town, most likely from our Republican-voting suburbs, that seem completely oblivious to the fact that this is a neighborhood and people live here. I’m not talking about noise—that’s part of this neighborhood’s character, anyway. It’s an annoying attitude that is mainly expressed through their complete unwillingness to observe the local customs of traffic flow. And that’s not even primarily about how they drive, even though it’s worth mentioning that our streets are streets and not aisles in the parking lot at Disneyland. It’s the use of the sidewalks.

Now, I realize that most suburbs and exurbs are allergic to building sidewalks, and so the use of sidewalks is confusing and possibly disorienting to suburbanites. And I appreciate that some of them tackle the fact that they may have to walk from a quarter to a half a mile from their car to the stadium with a sense of adventure, similar to the kind that one might have when sky-diving or trying a strange new food. It’s nice to take out those expensive running shoes and see what they can really do, like taking your SUV off-road. But the rest of us use those sidewalks every day, and we have certain etiquette that we follow to demonstrate that we understand that the sidewalks are to be shared.

Yes, it’s surprising that traffic on the sidewalk is coming and going, which indicates that people using the sidewalks may not be going in the same direction as you. This isn’t like Disneyland, where everyone is doing the same thing and traffic runs in one direction. This means that people will be coming up the sidewalk and it’s only polite to share it with them. It’s much like driving, in fact—push off to the right, and they’ll generally do the same. Stopping and freaking out, or skittering off into 15 different directions is not necessary.

In general, assume at all times that the sidewalk is being used by people not you, who may have different purposes than you. This means that it’s never okay to have your party completely dominate the sidewalk. It’s doubly rude if you’re walking on campus, which has sidewalks that are 8 people wide. If your party of 3 people walking abreast is taking up so much room that I have to step out in the street to get around you, you’re being an asshole. Unlike Disneyland, Austin has cars driving down the streets, and so walking in them is dangerous. Look, all of you showered today and presumably you like each other. You can bunch up a little more. We urbanites do it all the time, and so far, we don’t have cooties.

Some miscellaneous other suggestions: Please, don’t stand on the sidewalk talking to a friend in a way that forces the flow of foot traffic to go around you. If you’re parallel parking your car, don’t open the door on the side that goes out on the street and stand there for 10 minutes fucking around with something in the back seat while traffic builds up in the lane that your door and ass is currently occupying. Bicyclists might seem novel to you, but to the rest of us, they are both people and part of traffic, and should be respected as such. Young women walking down the sidewalk were not put there to be stopped and chatted up by middle aged men whose avuncular tone doesn’t fool them one bit. Because you’re here to have fun and ambling along—which is great, you should do that—doesn’t mean that everyone else on the sidewalk is in your frame of mind. Some of us are running errands, and don’t like that you’re in our way. Yes, it’s legal to run errands like grocery shopping on foot.

Recently, Atrios wrote a quick post in response to the complaints out the Metro working roughly how it always does in D.C. from the teabaggers who seem largely unaware that D.C. is a city that people live and work in. I loved his observation about how suburbanite red America seems to regard our glorious cities.

I know CoT hit this already, but I don’t think the full just laughing at anti-government protesters demanding better government service. This is also about people not from cities seeing cities – especially DC – as big urban theme parks. The monorail ride broke down.

Austin usually doesn’t have to deal with this attitude from visitors, because most of the events that bring large crowds to town—music and arts events mostly—bring them from urban areas. Most of the time, our visitors are people who are pros at using the sidewalk, understanding that public transportation is not a ride at Disneyland, and who generally understand that moving around in a city is about remembering that there are tons of people around you. They get the social contract of urban life: Don’t waste people’s time, don’t get in people’s space, don’t gawk at people or take umbrage to the fact that they aren’t in the same mindset as you. Most events, except the college football games. And then we get a little taste of what it’s like to live in an urban area that brings lots of suburban tourists.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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