You’d think it was a given, walking. We’ve all been doing it for decades, most can manage it while chewing gum, and certainly at this time of “permission to be lazy” (aka: “shelter at home”), anyone getting out and walking should be applauded, not critiqued.
But it seems, like so many other things these days, that lives — and frayed nerves — depend on how we do things, even the most basic things, so maybe a little “pandemic protocol” when it comes to our last allowed outdoor activity might be helpful.
So… I’ve been out; walking, getting sun, breathing air, all necessary for my mental and physical health, and always with utmost adherence to social distancing mandates. For weeks I was accessing various walking paths in my neighborhood, a favorite being one that winds down to and through my local beach with a wide, meandering bike/walk path that allows for miles of hearty, scenic outdoor activity. Every time I’ve availed myself of it, I made note that people were vigilant about observing sufficient spacing, cyclists flew by without incident, and those on the beach were set with well over six feet in between. The largest “groups” I saw were small family units of three or four on a blanket, or a couple walking together on the path. No “Florida at Spring Break” mayhem here, so I felt confident we were doing it right.
Not so much.
It turns out my neighborhood was, perhaps, an anomaly; photographs popped up on various media depicting other Los Angeles beaches and trails where excessive crowds were defying social distancing orders, congregating shoulder-to-shoulder, on both beaches and mountain trails, with impunity. Either they hadn’t gotten the memo or they were feeling defiant, but Mayor Eric Garcetti was having none of it. In short order, all LA county beaches, bike paths, multi-use trails and natural areas were closed to the public, with parking lots chained and official personnel on hand to suggest we move along.
This is why we can’t have nice things.
What this has meant to my outdoor exercise regimen, and that of many others, is the relegation, en masse, of all walkers to local neighborhood streets and smaller paths accessible by foot. Which means LOTS more people are now traversing where few had been prior, exhibiting a panoply of walking behaviors that swing from dutiful and friendly to aggressively uncooperative, leading me to realize, particularly after hearing from others who’ve had similar experiences in the wilds of city streets and sidewalks, that a “Pandemic Protocol for Public Walking” may be necessary.
Main rule? MOVE OVER! That’s pretty much it… every rude, thoughtless, health-endangering behavior on a public walkway comes down to that. But let’s throw out some specifics for the sake of discussion:
1. GET IN YOUR LANE — I’m by myself, tucked over on the right-hand side of the sidewalk; you’re coming toward me, but, for some reason, you’re more in the middle. As we approach, I look at you, you look at me, but you don’t move to your right. RULE? GET IN YOUR LANE! All the way to your right; ALL THE WAY. Even that, depending on sidewalk width, may not give us the prescribed six feet, but if it’s the best we got, take it. Don’t make me have to tromp into the brush along the sidewalk to give us space. Don’t make me have to ask you to move. It’s obvious. Get in your lane. Thank you.
2. STAY IN YOUR LANE — This may seem redundant, but it has specificity to it. I’m behind you, tucked on the right once again; you’re walking slower than me, so as I approach I’m going to use a passing maneuver. But just as I position my trajectory to do that, you start wandering to your left, blocking me. I slow down, assess whether I can now pass you on the right; just as I’m about to make that move, you ever-so-slowly wander back to your original position, causing me to screech to a halt until you’re back in place. RULE? STAY IN YOUR LANE. Realize others may walk at a different, faster pace and, given the need to not bump shoulders or brush hips, you’ll do everyone a favor by keeping to the right.
3. THE SINGLE FILE RULE — You’re with your Mom, your friend, your significant other; someone you’re close enough to, or live with, that you’re unconcerned about prescribed distances. It’s a lovely day, you’re walking abreast of each other, deep in conversation, when here I come, to your left, on my right, in my lane… but you two (or three) are taking up all the lanes in your approach. What to do? (Does it really need to be said?) MOVE INTO A SINGLE FILE. Don’t wait to be asked. Don’t make me stop. You see me, you know I’m headed your way; you know there’s no room (or not enough) for me to get by, so be a walking mensch and preemptively move behind each other in a single file. I promise it’ll only be a few seconds before I’m past, and then you can go happily arm-in-arm again.
4. DOG-WALKERS: LEASH & CLEAR THE PATH — I’ve love dogs, I’ve owned dogs, I know basic dog-walking drills, the slow, sniffing, stop-every-three-feet rhythm of a curious dog thrilled to be outside and moving. On those wider, wilder nature paths we used to be able to traverse in pre-pandemic days, dogs were often off-leash, gamboling freely and without incident. Now? We’re all stuck on the same neighborhood streets and short local paths, so dogs, like humans, have to step it up. Of course, it’s on the humans to make that happen. RULE: Leashes without question. And if your dog is slowly sniffing in my lane while you stand in yours, CLEAR THE PATH. Move Fido out of my way so I don’t have to stop or walk around you, particularly if, together, you’re taking up the whole sidewalk. Thank you. Your dog is really cute.
5. WORKING ON SIDEWALKS & PATHS? CLEAR! — I had this happen the other day: I was coming up a path from town, up to my neighborhood, and there were two men taking pictures of erosion repairs being done on the adjacent hillside. I could see them from a distance, it’s a narrow path, but no problem; they’ll move. They didn’t move. These two large men with cameras continued taking photographs, both standing so that I could not possibly get by without either climbing up the hillside or down into the scrub on my left. They looked at me without reaction and kept shooting as I walked closer. Despite proximity, and in a game of “social distancing chicken,” I continued on, wondering if I was ultimately going to have to holler “MOVE” or actually shove past them, when finally the one in my lane slowly moved over. Slowly. As if I were inconveniencing him. I wasn’t. It took me all of a second to move past. I had an impulse to say something nasty. I didn’t. But don’t do that. We’re all in this together, as we’re so constantly reminded. Be courteous, be rational; don’t make whatever rare interactions we have with our fellow humans these days any more curmudgeonly than need to be. We are the world.
6. GROUPS — This one’s easy: NO GROUPS. “Groups” shouldn’t be walking on any paths, playing any basketball; kicking around soccer balls, clotting in farmers’ markets, traversing any trails or sidewalks. There should be NO “groups” out and about anywhere. None. At all. ANYWHERE. Not until this plague is over. So please, groups, be wise; breaking up is not hard to do. It’s lifesaving. Make it happen. And if you’re too self-focused to do that, at least have the courtesy to steer clear of all other humans who are observing social distancing. This isn’t A Clockwork Orange. Get off the sidewalks and maraud elsewhere please.
There are probably others suggestions that apply, but these six are the most obvious. You have some to add, leave them in comments… I’d like to hear them. I promise I will abide and hope you will too.
Now that beaches and trails have been shuttered, I’d hate to see sidewalks and neighborhood paths fall to that same fate for lack of social distancing. This pandemic will be with us for months (sigh), and our sustained ability to get out and walk in the exceptionally clean air is essential. Let’s please honor all the protocols that will keep us healthy and keep the outdoors up and running. Or walking, as it were.
Besides, even without a pandemic, don’t you think every one of these makes good common sense?
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