Drifting Away

There’s a bad habit among New York City pedestrians that needs to be addressed. It’s a problem that’s not just prevalent among tourists, or the bridge-and-tunnel set, or the elderly. It’s a problem that’s surprisingly not just confined to on-street cell-phone talkers, coffee sippers, or iPod listeners.

The problem is sidewalk drifting.


Sidewalk drifting occurs when you and another pedestrian are walking down the sidewalk, nearly side-by-side, when the offender inexplicably drifts over into your straight-line path. They’re not going into a store. There’s nobody coming at them in the other direction. There is no reason for them to move. But for some reason, they find it necessary to move into your way.

Often times, they are slower-moving than you are, and they drift into your way as you approach them from behind. These pedestrians need rear-view mirrors.

Sidewalk drifting is the pedestrian equivalent of changing lanes without signaling.

Generally, it happens without warning. Sometimes the reason is obvious: most of the time, sidewalk drifters are talking on their cell phones, completely oblivious to their surroundings. These are the same people who are literally incapable of walking and chewing gum. But often, sidewalk drifting happens without explanation: does the other pedestrian feel more comfortable on the right side of the sidewalk? Can the other pedestrian only walk at 20-degree angles? Does the other pedestrian enjoy the extremely close company of complete strangers?

There’s one sure-fire solution to stopping sidewalk drifting. We’ll make the pedestrian experience more like driving… with sidewalk lane markings!


There! Millions of dollars in paint and labor and… problem solved!



Filed under As Seen On Gawker, Life in NYC

41 responses to “Drifting Away

  1. Rob

    Excellent powerpoint diagrams

  2. compartments

    Yeah! And maybe the city could issue everybody little hats with blinkers so pedestrians can let each other know when they’re going to change lanes. This pedestrian drift stuff happens in any city. I’m sure Chris will get used to it eventually.

  3. Matt

    fantastic visuals. I’m convinced.

  4. I like it! Also good for people to “pull over” onto the “shoulder” when they feel the need to stop for no apparent reason.

    For me, per an incident that happened this morning, I think there should be a special place in hell for people who lollygag down the steps when a train is in the station — causing me to miss it — just because that doesn’t happen to be their train. ARGH!

  5. Gwin

    MonkeyPants: totally with you on that one! Also bad: when people coming up the stairs use the ENTIRE staircase while you are trying to get down the stairs to catch the train they just got off of. The folks who use my stop (Grand Street) are especially prone to do this – of course, they also don’t understand the concept of letting people *off* the train before pushing their way onto it…

  6. I’m happy to see Chris isn’t the only one who noticed this. Chinese folks have developed a variation on the drift that is particularly vexing, the sudden veer. It’s walking in a straight line until you are just about to pass them, then suddenly moving hard diagonally right into your path.

    MonkeyPants, are you new here, or just polite? The secret lies in the elbows, grasshopper.

  7. Karen ;-)

    Methinks it’s time you found something else to complain about. This is the second posting regarding annoyances whilst walking.

  8. OK I admit I do this sometimes. But normally I walk very very fast. But when I am walking with my girlfriend I have to slow down and for some reason I start drifting and she complains about it all the time. I think for me it is kind of like in racing when there is a caution flag and the driver all move their cars from side to side as they drive slow.

  9. This isn’t nearly as annoying as Rush Hour Subway Door Syndrome.

    Say you board on a train when the doors open on the right side and you know that the doors on the left will open at the next three stations. So you want that coveted door spot at rush hour because you get a little more space than everyone else and get to lean instead of hold on. But the problem is, in your rush to board the train, you were so eager to be the first person on the train that you forgot the train won’t have a seat for you. Now you’re screwed. You’ll be stuck crammed into the middle of a car, holding onto the overhead bar that’s at a suitable height if you’re 6’4″. So what’s the solution?

    Well, if you’re the guy who got on the train in front of me this morning, you just stop in the doorway and let the seven people all bump into when you just stop.

    That’s more annoying.

  10. Wait are you one of those slow walkers I have to push out of my way to cut in front of? MaybeI’ll just install a blinker on my head…

  11. In addition, I suggest that all sidewalks be embedded with invisible fences and that before all foreigners go through customs a sensor is attached to their wrists. They wander out of their lanes or gather 6 deep at the street corner and ZAP — a brief but powerful burst of electricity to drive them back.

  12. sarah

    i think a fast lane (for new yorkers) and a could-you-move-any-freaking-slower lane (clearly for toursits) would also be a welcome addition to the city.

  13. Tan

    I also cannot stand the sidewalk drift. Also the 5-man-wide, wall-o-thug which does not permit you to pass and walks/limps at a snails pace. I also cannot stand the guys who step onto a packed subway car and block the doorway. I just logically am incapable of understanding this. However, I do know that it’s always a thug with a huge Northface jacket. They know they are blocking the door and just don’t care. It’s their one little f-you to the rest of us working folks before they go back to their food stamps and baby’s mama.

  14. Nothing will ever compare to the Macy’s Block from Halloween to NY. This year’s theme was Mary Poppins. Horrible, tinny music being piped out to gaping tourists 15 deep? Kill me.

    P.S. This is the Chicago Macy’s I am talking about, it is currently playing for infinity “Who let the Dogs Out?” and all the models are wearing Bears uniforms. Explain that to me.

  15. You seem to be going through a directional/traffic phase, the diagrams are oddly reminscent of your Friday (un)Funny last week!

  16. Travis

    When this happens, I normally just punch the person in the back of the head!!

  17. You said it, chief. & great visuals to illustrate the point. Earlier today, in the cafeteria, a guy speaking on his cell-phone drifted into my path and almost got my hot cappucino on me !

  18. drifting…hmm…
    perhaps a physical/balance thing? maybe some people’s inner ears are just more finely tuned?? or one leg is slightly shorter than the other??
    probably also the cause of walking in circles, lost, in a forest. or wherever.

  19. Hopeless Drudge

    Great diagrams.

    This is probably my biggest daily complaint about the “new” New York. Old timers will remember that once New Yorkers were famous for walking straight ahead, really fast. But there was a reason we did this. There was also a reason we never made small talk with any store clerk, at least the distinctive attitude of the clerks at Duane Reade discourages this.

  20. i don’t really mind the drifters, at least they’re not staring at me

  21. Sonja

    If I am not mistaken then they actually introduced two lanes (including the white lane markings on the ground) on the sidewalks of Oxford Street in London for exactly this reason…

  22. Your illustrations prove a good point; however, you have neglected to provide turn lanes for people who wish to cease their straightforward journey and turn in a different direction (across the street, into a store, etc.). Imagine someone walking in the left-hand lane (usually known as the passing lane)…they want to cross the oncoming foot traffic to veer off the path…into a Walgreen’s, let’s say. Without sufficient turn lanes (especially left turn lanes), you will have some heavy-duty foot jam.

    However, the addition of turn lanes will require the sidewalks to be widened…which means months of construction, higher taxes, and detours…

  23. My dad does this; I noticed it at xmas when I was taking a walk with my parents. I kept being walked into firehydrants and sign posts.

  24. Maybe they just need a front end alignment or their shoes are becoming thread bare on that side….hey it happens. :)

  25. kim

    my boyfriend is a sidewalk drifetr. he just has the inability to walk a straight line. he slowly moves towards you until he hits you.

    my brother does the same thing. he slams people into droors tho. this is a problem he is 6’4 and like 290

  26. DUDE, THAT SOOO MAKES SENSE TO DO!!!!! But people in vehicles hardly follow the lines and rules of the road so people just walking on the sidewalk would probably be worse than a person in a car.

  27. I hate when they do that right behind you. I just turn around like WTF man.

  28. Pedestrian lanes may assist drifters but who wants to be so lanebound? Next step is tickets for peds who don’t comply. Go the drifters.

  29. Gilligan

    When racing sailboats it is common to ask the boat you are overtaking, in a right of way situation, to “hold your course.” I think the same courtesy/custom should be employed here. The person who is overtaking the slower drifter should feel free, at about 2 or 3 paces out, to shout out “hold your course” so at least the person doing the overtaking has the option to veer left or right before being forced into a collision.

  30. monkey shirt

    I think we should all have whistles so we can warn the drifters that they are about to be hit.

  31. Midtown Living

    I dont see what the big deal is. If you are not in a rush and walking slow, then it doesnt matter what gets in your path. If you are walking fast, hug the curb and walk in the street when necessary. I have to do this all the time living in midtown. Tourists, shoppers, coupon/flyer people and slow walkers constantly get into my path. I just walk on the street near the curb. Cars can kiss my arse, I need to get around that crap.

  32. v

    Often what is mistaken for sidewalk drifting is in fact a woman in heels needing to avoid grates and other sidewalk traps … it comes across as random, as she veers away from the grate, but watch for it …

  33. No, no, no! What we need is mandatory horns for pedestrians. That we can honk nonstop at each other, just like the big bad drivers do.

  34. Christina

    V, totally get you on that heel thing! Worse than the veer is the dead stop and twist as a heel gets stuck in a grate and then the complete inability to get yourself UN-stuck because the flow of foot traffic won’t allow enough space for you to bend down.

  35. Stephanie Gerow

    ok, I don’t live in new york, but I remember I had a similar problem when I was in high school walking through hallways. But I was the drifter. I’d like to think it had something to do with gravity, or maybe I would psych myself out. But if I saw someone walking toward me, even in a wide empty hallway, I would be pulled in towards them. It was embarrassing. I guess I’m just a retard.

  36. Dazza

    I too have been the victim of sidewalk drifters; it’s a shame. Even more offensive are the “people” (and I use that term only in the polite sense of the word) who are walking toward you and refuse to divert their path, thus crashing into you and typically dropping the F-word because YOU’RE the rude idiot.

  37. The subway platform drifting is the worst especially when you’ve been walking in a straight line and the drifter bumps into you and acts like it’s YOUR fault. I just give them a “yeah, right” look and keep walking lest I get tossed onto the platform.

    I also have big person issues. Being petite I am always being tussled on the subway, bus and sidewalk by people I have termed “gigantors” which is everyone bigger than me (ie just about everyone). But I am tired of them taking up too much space and impinging on the small space I’m in. People stop squeezing me out by acting like you don’t see me. I know you do.

  38. rebar

    I have always thought that drawing “lanes” on the sidewalks would be a great public art project. My office is in Rockefeller Center, one of the hot-zones of pedestrian drifting. I can’t tell you how many family photographs I must be in cursing under my breath at those damn tourists (while of course thanking them for visiting our wonderful city!) I thought there should be a tourist lane and a local lane. The worst is around the holidays when you’ve got the decorated shop windows, the giant tree, the ice skating rink, and the cathedral – you can’t even cross the street. I’ve ranted enough I think – maybe some other day I’ll chime in on the sidewalk tailgaters and the subway door syndrome.

  39. Ever think about running for office? I would vote for you. This is brilliant

  40. Pingback: Idiot of the Week: State Senator Carl Kruger « east village idiot

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s