Sidewalk Etiquette in the Time of COVID-19

Blurred view of people walking outdoors on a city sidewalk

Iakov Kalinin /  Shutterstock

If you need to be out and about during physical distancing, please mind your sidewalk manners.

Over the weekend I needed supplies, so I ventured out into the big world in an imaginary 12-foot bubble in order to keep the mandated six-feet of distance between myself and anyone else. At one point I stopped at the crosswalk waiting for the light and this dude came and stood about a foot away from me, forcing me to move back from my spot to maintain the mandated six feet. This wasn't the worst thing I've seen, by far, but come on. This is New York City, the current epicenter of the pandemic; we need to be taking our space bubbles seriously!

This is something I have been paying attention to for a while now. In the first week of our essentials-only "pause" (that's what our Dad-in-Chief – Governor Andrew Cuomo – is calling New York City's lockdown) I tried doing a solitary, physically-distanced exercise walk-run over the Williamsburg Bridge. (Dad Cuomo says we can go for runs and walks if we maintain our six feet.) Well forget that; couples were walking hand-in-hand, people and their leashed dogs were creating perfect trip wires, walkers were not passing correctly, to name just a few of the bad manners making the requisite six feet of distance impossible.

Sloppy sidewalk etiquette has long been a point of contention for New Yorkers, mostly for the sake of traffic flow. There are unspoken rules of the footpath; like no sidewalk-wide phalanxes of friends, and whatever you do, never stop in the middle of a busy sidewalk! Some 8 million people use NYC's 12,000 miles of sidewalk daily, and flow is important. Especially since our sidewalks have been sadly shrinking to make more room for cars over the last century.

But in the age of coronavirus, there are additional rules; and so with that in mind, here are my very own Miss Manners tips for how not to hog the pavement.

Walk single file on narrow or busy sidewalks

If a sidewalk is say 10 feet wide or wider, then chances are there may be room for two people side-by-side to walk and allow someone to maintain six feet of distance while passing. But if the sidewalk is narrow or if the sidewalk is busy at all, people need to walk single file.

Walk on the right side

Since here in the United States we drive on the right side, walking on the right side feels natural. If everyone can agree to walk on the right side, we can avoid the bob-and-weave dance of sidewalk navigation, and avoid bumping into each other.

Walk on the edge of narrow sidewalks

Unless you are walking on a super wide sidewalk, stay near the edge to ensure that there can be a six-foot space between yourself and a passer.

Do not bike or scooter on sidewalks

If you are using a scooter, hoverboard, skateboard, or bike, stay in the bike lane or street. Sidewalks can't afford the chaos right now.

Do not pass when someone is approaching from the opposite direction

Think of the sidewalk as a two-lane, two-way road. Don't pass someone in front of you if there is someone approaching from the opposite direction – wait for them to pass before you get in their lane.

Don't multitask

Many a city citizen can eat lunch while taking a phone call while out on their daily run. But while everyone is trying to keep six feet of distance in order, it's helpful to be focused on the sidewalk, not one's phone or other distractions.

No sudden stops; no stopping in the middle

If you need to stop walking and attend to something, step out of the way of traffic, much like you would were you in a car.

Consider the less agile people

If you are on the same path with an elderly person or someone who is less agile than you are, be the person who moves out of the way so that they can maintain their stride.

Shorten the leash when necessary

Coronavirus or not, people need to walk their dogs. But when doing so, be mindful of the leash; if the leash is stretched across the sidewalk, it can make passing hard and may be a potential tripping hazard.

Herd the kids

We are all about free-range parenting here on TreeHugger ... but on the sidewalk in the midst of physical distancing during a pandemic is not the time to let them run free. Keep the kids close, especially on narrow sidewalks shared with other other pedestrians.

And if you are running...

Remember that just because you may be passing a pedestrian quickly, you still need to stay six feet away from said pedestrian, even if that means you have to run in big zig-zaggy arcs.

That's all we've got. Have you seen other sidewalk missteps?