The Hazards of Looking Left

After spending my entire 28 years of existence in places where the traffic moves forward on the right side of the road it would take me a while to get used to it flowing from the wrong end. Not as a driver but, simply, as a pedestrian crossing the road. I’ve managed to avoid any collisions but, on a number of occasions, I have been startled by a car coming at me from a direction I did not expect: my right. Fear is a great learning aid.

I imagine that this is a known problem in a tourist heavy city like London. What else would be the motivation for painting, on intersection asphalt, signage telling pedestrian crossers which way to look? All around on the streets are painted notices advising people to “LOOK LEFT” and “LOOK RIGHT.” No doubt many a foreigner walked onto the street looking the correct way only to be struck down by a double-decker bus coming coming from the other direction. I have not been so unfortunate as I have adjusted my jaywalking habits accordingly.

The streets I understand now but the pedestrian pavement continues to dumbfound. If the cars drive on the left which way, as a courtesy, are pedestrians meant to walk on the sidewalk? Casual observation shows that, as anywhere else, people tend to stick to the right hand side. But not everyone. I wonder about those contrarians: are they walking their own path, regardless of common decency and courtesy, or are they the few stragglers doing it right amongst a sea of wrong-headed tourists? I was uncertain until I started going into the London Underground where, along the deep escalator descents, signs were posted alerting those that choose to stand to stand on the right.

My questions had been answered. Pedestrians stick to the right except when passing. This must be, no matter what automobiles do, a universal rule. I was satisfied.

The very next day in some connecting station somewhere on the Northern Line, in the busy tunnels going from one platform to another, there were signs posted asking pedestrians to stick to the left. To add to that, some stations had their descending escalators on the left and others had them on the right. Once again I was confused so, now, I do what makes most sense: I walk in the middle. Let everyone else sort it out.

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