Fast and furious: New Yorkers propose sidewalk lanes to curb pedestrian traffic

Few things provoke the ire of New Yorkers more than a clogged sidewalk. Tourists take selfies in front of the New York Stock Exchange, loiter outside Federal Hall, and contribute to the worst traffic jams the city has to offer. People who text and walk have inspired the term “petextrian” to copyright their uniquely obnoxious behavior. Back in 2011, The Village Voice highlighted the “15 Worst Kinds of Pedestrians in New York City.” This list included people who smell, people who ask you where you get your hair cut, the spread-across-the-entire-sidewalk-and-saunter-let’s-even-hold-hands-why-don’t-we people, and your parents.

The amount of pedestrian and cycling traffic seems only to have increased since then. It isn’t just that thoughtless walkers create inconvenience; they also cause injuries. A report released in August by the Governors Highway Safety Association found that while pedestrian injuries declined between the 1970s and 2000s, they have climbed 15 percent since 2009. In 2013, 4,735 people died from walking while distracted, indicating that a pedestrian is killed every two hours in the United States.

On the island of Manhattan, where sidewalks are the freeways of the city, wouldn’t it make sense to treat pedestrian pathways with the same respect we accord highways? One retail company in the United Kingdom claims to have found a solution. In 2010, Argos divided the walkway in front of their establishment into a fast lane and a slow lane. This strategy has allowed people to meander at their own pace without inconveniencing their faster-paced peers.

On the other side of the world, Chongqing, China, a municipality of more than 28 million people, has instituted citywide pedestrian lanes as of late 2014. Their line distinguishes between people on their phones and all other pedestrians. American cities like Antwerp, Washington D.C. and campuses such as Utah Valley University have invested in similar laws.

A recent article in The New York Times suggested that the same solution would benefit New York City as well. Without straying into the realm of strict legislation, a light-hearted strategy could at least begin to address the problem of crowded sidewalks. In an article titled "New York Could Be Getting a 'Fast Lane' Pedestrian Sidewalk - In Your Dreams," New York’s real estate site Brick Underground reached out to the Department of Transportation for comment about the idea of dividing sidewalks. While they continue to await a response, it is unlikely that Mayor Bill de Blasio will be quick to jump at the idea. For now he seems to be more focused on fleshing out his education agenda and addressing issues of inequality.

Opponents of the idea point out that this law would be difficult to enforce. Additionally, some suggest that “petextrians” would be unlikely to stay in their lane if distracted by their phones. Others argue that the government cannot cure basic civic discourtesy and thoughtlessness by enacting yet another law. Maybe New Yorkers should just grin and bear the occasional stepped-on toe and help out the oblivious out-of-towner.

Seasoned city slickers, know that when your hotline blings, you should wait to answer your cell phone until you enter a convenient location and can safely pick up the call. Perhaps it was poor phone etiquette that made Drake leave the city?