Thursday, October 19, 2006

Pedestrian Traffic Jams

I could have titled this post "The Sociology of Walking" but that isn't terribly interesting. So, now you know the actual subject of my post - the sociology of walking. (If this were a thesis or dissertation I might title it "The Sociology of Walking with Special Emphasis on the Phenomenon of Stoppages in Pedestrian Traffic Flows." If anyone needs a thesis title or subject you are welcome to use that one!)

How many of you generally follow these sorts of rules:

1. Walk on the right

2. On an escalator, walk on the left and stand on the right (Yes that really is a rule!)

3. Exit from the back of the bus if people are waiting to board the bus

What other rules can you think of? Think about rules for opening doors to public buildings, to using crosswalks, and for paying attention to what you are doing.

"Sunday" walkers really aren't paying attention. They just saunter along blissfully unaware that other people may be focused on getting somewhere. I honestly think their behavior is just a temporary lapse in walker etiquette. And other people are just too fat or lazy to move any faster. The old and infirm are a different matter because they can't help but be a tad slow. Many Sunday walkers are just being rude though.

Some of the Sunday walkers also like to stop at the top or bottom of an escalator for no apparent reason. Happily for we heavy users of Metro, these people rarely act up during rush hour.

The phenomenon of the Sunday walker leads me, clumsily, to a discussion of pedestrian traffic jams. I'm going to theorize that pedestrian traffic jams happen when three conditions are satisfied: (1) One or more people insist on moving more slowly than the crowd, (2) there is any sort of bottleneck, like a kiosk or a bench, the obstructs the flow of traffic, and (3) the area has reached a certain critical density level that makes it hard for individuals to manuever. I could say more about the dynamics, and the parallels with motor vehicle traffic, but I think that is enough information for one blog post.

Strange but true: Some sociologist or anthropologist has almost certainly studied pedestrian traffic jams. Maybe somebody feels energetic enough to locate the research. Maybe somebody who needs a thesis topic will feel moved to investigate my ideas about pedestrian traffic jams.

That's about all I've got to say about walking. Next time I'll tackle the sociology of the gym! Be sure to dress appropriately for that class!

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