We went out for one of our New Rochelle walks today to knock a few more streets off of our list and to use up a few more Thanksgiving calories.
We were in a quiet neighborhood with no sidewalks, an unfortunately common occurrence. We generally face the traffic but as we'd just turned around at the end of a small quiet street (one of those streets that get walked both ways to avoid missing a block or two) we were not being vigilant about where we were on the street. An SUV came around the corner and the driver honked at us. Not a loud, long drawn out offensive honk. It was more a "guys, watch out, I'm behind you" honk. It made us both jump but it was understandable and, in its own way, helpful. What wasn't so helpful was the driver opening his passenger side window to lecture us. His opening remark was addressed to my husband "Sir, you were walking in the middle of the road". He wasn't. He was no further out in the road than the width of a parked car but I guess from a driver's perspective that's a lot of space between the pedestrian and the curb. My husband responded that the honking had startled us. The driver helpfully replied that he could have run us over instead. At that point his passenger also chipped it, I guess she felt we didn't understand the severity of what we had done - taking up space on a public roadway, endangering ourselves and potentially causing a lot of trouble to her and the driver if he had run us over.
When it became clear that we were not going to pay any more attention to the ongoing lecture, the driver finally sped up after telling us that "in this country, we keep to the right". This closing comment bothered me for two reasons. Firstly any experienced pedestrian will tell you that given adequate visibility a pedestrian should face the traffic, which "in this country" means walking on the left. And secondly, why is it always white men with American accents who use the term "in this country"? Do they think they are the only ones who know how things should be done? And that there is only one way (their way) to do something right in this huge and wonderfully diverse country?
When situations like this occur I never think of a response until too late but when I did finally get over my surprise (and distaste) for being lectured at by someone driving alongside me in their car, I wished I had said that if he wanted to be of service he could lobby for sidewalks. That of course occurred to me after thinking of a number of sarcastic rejoinders but it is the one I hope I remember if we get lectured at again for taking up space on a public roadway. Yes, from a safety perspective we were not paying good attention, but a lecture?
Any ideas of what else we could have said? Or were we so clearly at fault we deserved the lecture?
Author: Nina Arron
I am an enthusiastic pedestrian, urban planner, and project manager currently living in New Rochelle, New York. I am grateful to be living in a walkable city with affordable easily accessible public transport (both trains and buses). My appreciation became even greater after spending three years back in New Zealand where it was much harder to fit daily walking into my life in what is considered one of the great natural, green environments in the world.