Opinion

An American's Take On Walking London's Sidewalks... Sorry, Pavements

[published preview] By Aidan Walsh Last edited 7 months ago

Last Updated 18 December 2023

An American's Take On Walking London's Sidewalks... Sorry, Pavements
People, out of focus, walk along London Bridge as a group overlooks Tower Bridge in the distance.
"London, I am trying to understand how you haven't adopted this system. How do you people get anywhere?" Image: Paige Kahn

An American visitor has a few opinions on how Londoners walk.

"Aye, I'm walking here!"

I'm from the New Jersey and New York area. We're very loyal to our system of walking and sidewalk sharing.

It's a matter of "move it or lose it". If you get in the way of a New Yorker, expect to be steamrolled by a cold shoulder or, in some cases, cussed out. And when a New Yorker's got somewhere to be, we take the most direct route, meaning there is no time or patience for those stepping in the way.

This almost confrontational style of getting around has developed into a system. The New York sidewalk naturally divides into two lanes, which go in opposite directions (much like how both our countries drive on the road). But this has never translated to your pavements. London, I am trying to understand how you haven't adopted this system. How do you people get anywhere?

Crowds of people
"People walk so insufferably slow or in an armada of friends or coworkers. It's impossible to get around the ironclad space they take up." Image: iStock/JohnnyGreig

Since coming to London, I've noticed people use the pavement in the following ways

  • Someone is always walking the opposite way directly in front of me. I can't walk on a straight path for more than 30 seconds! Please don't tell me I'm the only person having to weave through people here.
  • Even worse, people walk so insufferably slow or in an armada of friends or coworkers. It's impossible to get around the ironclad space they take up. It's the biggest culture shock for me, and absolute mayhem. It's got to stop. Where is the sidewalk self-awareness here?! Don't you people know others exist? We don't want to dodge or weave around you!
  • The worst place (and the most ironic) is Tower Bridge. The sidewalk is *labelled*. It gives clear instructions as to which lane you should walk in. Either (a) no one can read, or (b) no one chooses to, for illogical reasons. It has my brain in a spiral.
  • It may sound like I've only been walking in tourist places like Hyde Park and Oxford Street, but don't assume that. I've tramped through many parts of central London and the City of London during commuting hours to test this theory (I like London and want my assumptions to be proved wrong.)
Someone is always walking the opposite way directly in front of me. I can't walk on a straight path for more than 30 seconds! Image: TfL

Any hope?

There's one place that London and NYC might be able to come to a happy medium on their walking styles, and that's in the subways. People seem to stick to one side down there, even allowing Londoners to run for the tube when needed. I love the flow of traffic on Tube escalators, with the clear stand-on-the-right rule. It's brilliant.

An escalator with the words 'stand on the right' in yellow text one word on each step

But don't think you're in the clear. The same does not go for walking to the tube during commuting hours — there are still no distinct lanes. If only you could implement your escalator system on your sidewalks, you'd get to the pub a lot faster.

Londoners could take a leaf out of the NYC walking playbook; it would significantly improve your commute.

Put a (meaner) spring in your step, London!