A guide to London pavement ettiquette

Posted on 09/08/2012


They’re here. The event that athletes have been dreaming of, and Londoners moaning about has finally started, and with it have come tens of thousands of visitors to our fair city.

London is a pretty tolerant place, but everyone and everywhere has a breaking point. It just so happens that ours (or maybe just mine) is to do with pavement walking.

For us (/me) the pavement as an extension of the road, only for people instead of cars. With that comes a similar set of traffic rules; essentially we have our own highway code for pavements, which until now has remained unwritten. In the spirit of fair play and all things Olympic, I thought I should share these.

1) Please keep to the left
Like the road circulation in the UK, we instinctively walk on the left. We know it’s confusing and we know the rest of the world does it the other way round. We also don’t care. It is the way we have always done it. We only ask that you do the same to avoid awkward pavement dances (link).

2) Survival of the fastest
(Or whoever’s in the biggest hurry)
You’ll see we’re big fans of the “Keep calm and carry on” motto. I’m not sure we’re that good at the keeping calm but we do like to keep doing our own thing uninterrupted. Like most places, life is busy here and we respect that.

Part of the deal is that you also help other people “carry on”. If someone’s clearly in more of a hurry than you, it’s only fair to let them past. Make way for the fast walkers and be conscious of people around you.

3) Three (or more) is a crowd
London isn’t a “big” city like New York. Our buidlings, streets and pavements are all quite modest, which means there’s definitely not space for more than two people to walk side by side.

Nothing irritates Londoners more than strings of people spread out across the pavement and blocking everyone’s way. Stay in pairs, let faster people overtake (see above) and keep to the left (again, see above).

4) Stopping and starting
Would you park your car on a  freeway / autoroute? Like hell you would. Then for Christ’s sake don’t stop in the middle of the pavement. Not only are you stopping the flow of traffic, but you’re also breaking rule no. 2 (survival of the fastest)!

Sometimes it’s good to take a break, but I respectfully ask you to please not get in everyone’s way. This includes: doorways, at the top (or bottom) of a flight of stairs, pedestrian crossings and in the middle of a fast moving crowd.

We don’t ask a lot, just that you abide by these unwritten, unofficial, but definitely universal rules about how you use our pavements. Don’t forget that in London our way IS the highway. Thank you for your consideration, you may now consider this rant over.