Liverpool Becomes Envy of the World With Fast Lane for Pedestrians

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Leave the evil glares and under-the-breath cursing at home ... on one busy Liverpool street, fast-walking pedestrians no longer have to navigate around slowpokes, stragglers and people preoccupied with their phones. (Photo: Argos)

First things first: the United Kingdom’s first-ever “crowd-bypassing pavement lane” — a dedicated lane reserved for swift-footed pedestrians who are overcome with murderous rage when forced to navigate around dawdlers, texters, tourists and human tortoises — will be a short-lived one. It’s only up and, er, running, at a bustling open-air shopping center in Liverpool for a week.

Secondly, it’s not an official solution dreamt up by Liverpool officials in response to a distinctly urban predicament. Rather, it’s a rather brilliant PR stunt staged by Argos, a catalog-based British retailer that sells everything from teakettles to drones to garden sheds. That said, the primary goal of the “Fast Track” lane is to direct rushed shoppers into Argos stores with as little fuss, muss and slow walker-related frustration as possible. Also, it's a less daunting method of avoiding crowded sidewalks than a zip line.

“The brand new lane will allow the swift and the speedy to navigate their way through the shopping centre without being held up by the dawdling and distracted,” reads a news release issued by Argos.” Consumerism at its finest.

Argos has clearly struck a cord with a public sick and tired of sidewalk gridlock; a public anxious for the day when they can move quickly and with determination without worry of encountering selfie stick-ers, slowpokes and fellow pedestrians with a blatant disregard for sidewalk etiquette; a public whose patience has been stretched thin.

Prior to painting the lane onto a busy South John Street sidewalk near an Argos outpost, the retailer conducted a survey amongst shoppers seeking their top 10 shopping bugbears (otherwise known as pet peeves).

Topping the list of irk-inducers at 31 percent was “sidewalk hoggers,” followed by “dawdling pedestrians” in the number two slot with 27 percent. “Battling through crowds,” “middle of the street chattering” and “people checking their phones” also made the top 10. Intriguingly enough, “rude staff” came in last place.

It’s fascinating how the actions that really set British shoppers off don’t even necessary occur in stores but outside of them, on the street. In total, 47 percent of those surveyed are frequently annoyed by the sluggish pace of human traffic encountered to and from their shopping destinations.

In Liverpool, retailer Argos has developed a temporary pedestrian "fast lane" so that zippy shoppers can avoid slowpokes.
Okay, maybe that's too fast. Taking full advantage of a pop-up fast lane for quick-on-their-feet pedestrians at the Liverpool One shopping complex. (Photo: Argos)

"Shoppers have also told us that speed is critical when simply getting around the high street or town centre, so we want to test consumer reaction to a dedicated pavement fast lane. We hope it alleviates some of the biggest shopping high street frustrations,” explains Andy Brown, central operations director for Argos.

Those in favor of a dedicated lane for sprightly walkers polled on the younger side: 69 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds were in favor of one. Britons over 55 were less enthusiastic (37 percent in favor) but still showed support for the idea.

As a New Yorker educated in the fast-walking city of Boston, the frustrations described by Brown have little to do with shopping and more about setting foot outside of my apartment.

There exist entire neighborhoods and streets (you know who you are) I avoid for my own mental well-being. Certain transgressions set me off more easily than others. Dawdling or folks traveling at a leisurely gait not so much. However, the dreaded act of “group walking” in parties of three or more instantly gives me rage face. The same goes for cellphone loiters who congregate at the top of subway entrances and are perpetually in my way. As for the oblivious and rude people who ride me — the pedestrian equivalent of tailgating — until I’m forced to step aside and let them pass even they could have easily maneuvered around me? Well, there’s a special place in hell for close walkers.

And I’m not alone.

Since news spread of Liverpool's limited-time pedestrian fast lane, city dwellers have taken to social media (and Reddit) to join together in a collective “I want that too ...”

The Village Voice reached out to the de Blasio administration for comment on the possibility of designated fast lanes for pedestrians in the Big Apple. As of publication, the Voice is still awaiting a “hopefully empathetic” response.

The New York Times has even chimed in, wondering if the Liverpool experiment could be “the first volley in the liberation of speedy pedestrians.” The Times contacted Cory Bortnicker, the man behind Pedestrian Penalty Cards, for his take. “Slow walkers live on a different planet than fast walkers. Moving fast is not in their DNA. They are lucky, and I wish that I were one,” says Bortnicker.

Bortnicker goes on to admit that he’s mellowed since creating the "Carefree Sauntering" and "Oversized Umbrella"-condemning penalty cards in 2013 — likely because he’s relocated from Manhattan to the less aggravating sidewalks of Queens.

While Liverpool’s ambler-eschewing lane might be the first of its kind in Britain — possibly the world — similar concepts have been introduced before. In 2014, the Chinese city of Chongqing unveiled a designated lane not for fast walkers but for slow walkers, specifically those attempting to text and walk at the same time.

As Liverpool's fast lane enters its final days, I'm left with a slew of questions. Will life — a life devoid of pedestrian paths reserved for the hurried — resume as normal? What will be the overall impact on sales at Argos coming out of the week-long stunt? Will Liverpool city officials consider a more permanent solution to sidewalk gridlock? And what did all the longtime mall speed walkers out there think about all of this?

Via [The Independent]