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Memo To: New pedestrians, In re: Your skills

| Wednesday July 30th, 2008 | 0 Comments

Hi there! And welcome aboard. I haven’t seen you much on the train/bus/bike lane before – you must be one of the new people. I hope that’s not offensive. I mean, there are a lot of you, um, “refugees,” if you will, and it’s quite a change for all of us. While there are bound to be some hiccups along the way, I want you to know that I, for one, will endeavor to make your transition to your new life as a pedestrian as welcoming and comfortable as possible.
The first thing to remember about your new life is that you are likely very attached to your old way of living – not that there’s anything wrong with that! – but, because of this attachment, you are also likely to experience some culture shock; this is a natural part of the adaptation process. For starters, pedestrians are quite different culturally from car people. Like, you can actually bump into us on the street! Quite a bit different than running into or over us, I’m sure.
You will also come to notice that we have certain social norms, habits and customs that are quite distinct from your native land of freeways, traffic jams, road rage and parking lots. We probably seem like a curious tribe, what with our backpacks, books, bike helmets, ankle straps, monthly transit passes and sidewalk maneuvering techniques.
But with a little effort and a lot of patience, you too can fully assimilate into pedestrian culture. In time, I think you’ll find it’s a superior lifestyle. So in an effort to help speed and smooth the transition for you, I’ve drafted the following pointers and tips, designed to help you gain some basic skills; for those of you who are former pedestrians who “fell off the wagon,” so to speak, consider this a refresher course in “Pedestrian Skills 101.”


Because pedestrian culture is divided up into multiple subcultures, I thought it would be useful to focus on a couple of subgroups that you’re most likely to encounter in the early days of your new existence – train and bus cultures. Bicycle culture is important, and worthy of its own primer because it’s pretty complex, with odd tribes like the fixies, the roadies, the 29’ers, the city cruisers and beach cruisers, mountain bikers and cross bikers, Extracyclists and recumbents and bad-boy-freestylers and girls-about-town – not to mention trikers and Burners and, if you’re in Colorado or British Columbia, unicyclists. And then there’s my personal favorite, the Conference Bikers:

But this is a lot to absorb for a recent emigree. So for now, I’ll focus on trains and buses – that seems to be where most of you are turning up these days, anyway. You all seem so shell-shocked! But don’t fret – trains and buses have been successfully moving people around since before GM and Standard Oil (now Exxon) paid to destroy America’s mass transit system; follow these tips, and you’ll be loving it before you can say “$8 a gallon.”
For starters, you may be surprised to find that, in most major cities (and in some enlightened small towns) you can get on a train or a bus at a stop relatively near your home, and get off, mere tens of minutes later, very close to your desired destination. It’s miraculous, really: given the widespread and well-funded political opposition to both urban planning and public transportation funding that’s prevailed across the United States for most of the past 40 years, we’re lucky to have buses or trains at all.
Thanks in part to the aforementioned political opposition, your transit system probably leaves a little to be desired in the way of accessibility, reliability and timeliness; this is a common trait, even here in “liberal” San Francisco, where our local Muni system (not to be confused with the superior, on-time, highly efficient, regional BART train system) is only slightly more reliable than an earthquake – and about as efficient at moving people around. But fear not, fellow San Franciscans! I’m sure that any day now our legendary Green Mayor will wave his magic hair gel and address this pressing issue.
So, without any further adieu, I give you:
A cultural guide to your local train or bus system.

Part 1: Getting on/off the bus/train
1. Always have your fare ready before you board. This will save time. Remember, you’re not getting in your car by yourself anymore – there are at least 47 other people who are sitting there watching you fumble with your change. The longer you fumble, the more they hate you – and none of us wants to be a hater. Best solution: buy a monthly pass! All the cool kids are doing it.
2. Always let disembarking passengers get off the train/bus before you try to get on. Anyone who gets on a train or a bus will need to get off somewhere, someday – this also applies to you. It’s common courtesy to stand aside and let other riders get off before you try to get on. Seasoned riders will set up a blockade to the side of the door to let people disembark and prevent seat jumpers from pushing their way on – you will quickly endear yourself to your fellow riders if you try this trick.
3. If you are wearing a large bag or backpack that bumps into other passengers, take it off and clasp it between your knees or lower legs. Don’t pretend like it’s not knocking into everyone around you. Remember, we don’t want to be haters.
4. Move. To. The. Back. Of. The. Bus. (Or. Train.)
This is basic, and is a formative cultural trait of transit elders. It’s considered extremely rude to hover by the door and pretend like you’re alone on an empty train; you block other riders in both directions. The claim “I’m only going a few stops, and don’t want to get stuck” will peg you as an amateur – remember, the goal is integration, not conflict. In any case, there is an established and accepted solution, known as the “Pre-walk” (see below). Other riders have to get on after you, and there will be other stops where still more riders will want to get on, and if you’re standing at the entry way blocking their way you’ll slow the bus/train down and make everybody late and everybody will hate you.
5. The Pre-Walk.
The Pre-Walk is an ancient transportation technique that is believed to have been invented by teenagers in Brooklyn during the ascent of the Dodgers to national fame.
The concept of the pre-walk is quite simple: a passenger is seated or standing at the back of the train or bus, away from an exit; he or she is aware of the location of the train or bus, and begins to position him/herself toward the exit a few moments before arriving at the desired stop. This allows said passenger to exit the vehicle without pushing and shoving toward the door, and, more importantly, without impeding its continued service.
If you haven’t figured out the pre-walk, you will surely be pegged as a rookie by your fellow riders; inability or unwillingness to pre-walk is a severe cultural insult, and is akin to asking for extra crackers at a Catholic mass.
These tips and tricks should put you well on the path to citizenship in the world’s largest tribe – pedestrians! For the next couple of installments, we’ll focus on sidewalk technique 101 (including how to walk straight, how to use an escalator, distinctions between annoying and appropriate cell phone use, etc.), carless shopping strategies, introduction to bicycle tribes, and finally, advice on what to do with the thousands of dollars you’re NOT spending each year on your car!


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