How to avoid sidewalk rage this summer: Opinion

Columnist Dave Stewart says sharing the sidewalks makes him tense, especially when Charlottetown's population swells with thousands of summer visitors.

Columnist Dave Stewart's top tips for (trying to) avoid sidewalk rage

Summer in the city means extra-busy sidewalks in Charlottetown. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Our forebearers may have had their minds on colonizing or creating a new country, but they certainly weren't thinking about Charlottetown sidewalks in 2019. 

There's just not much room for expansion. Our sidewalks are about as wide as they're going to get, and that's only about one skirt-bustle wide in 1885 measurements.

Skip ahead a few years to 1925, the year when Austrian physicist Wolfgang Pauli first put forward his exclusion principle. We've come to know it like this: Two solid objects cannot occupy the same place at the same time.

All of this is useful information as we return to the present day and my fear of Charlottetown's sidewalks. Problems don't get more first-world than this, but I have to admit that they make me tense, especially in the summer when it's more crowded — I'm always bracing myself for the inevitable.

Big city, no problem

I've navigated the sidewalks of New York City, Hong Kong and Berlin without issue. I understand that those walkways are, in general, much wider than ours — see the above bustle-width comment.

It's also true, however, that the populations of those cities are much larger than ours, so it sort of evens out.

In NYC and Berlin, foot traffic tends to move in an orderly pedestrian-controlled flow, sometimes across several lanes moving in all directions.

So too in Hong Kong, where I've noticed that people heading to the same point from opposite directions also tend to avert at the last moment, some innate sonar avoiding collision.

But my shoulders are bruised from P.E.I.'s sidewalks, and I just don't know what I'm doing wrong.

How did I end up the villain?

Here's a typical scenario.

It's a nice summer day and I'm on my lunchtime hunt for a sandwich. Walking along the sidewalk, three perfectly average people, perhaps on their own sandwich hunt, are headed toward me. They're talking and laughing with each other, so they must be in a good mood. We're all on this sandwich safari together! 

People in NYC are better at sidewalk-sharing, Stewart posits. (Dave Stewart)

As we're about to meet, I pull over as far as I can to one side of the sidewalk to make as much room as I can, and what does the oncoming trio do? Nothing but keep coming.

What follows? Collision. A surprised shout of "ow!" from the challenger. A look back in anger from all three. 

"What a jerk," I can hear them say, all thoughts of a good-natured sandwich gathering vanished.

But just how is it that I ended up the villain of this piece? What did or didn't I do?

To the best of my knowledge I did what I should have done and all I reasonably could do. Since this is a too-frequent occurrence for me — more frequent in the summer — I feel I'm somewhat of an expert on the subject, and what I've observed is that it comes down to one thing: being aware of our surroundings.

But what exactly does that mean in this case? 

Dave's top tips for avoiding sidewalk rage

Now is the perfect time to tackle this issue — just before P.E.I.'s summer season begins in earnest and cruise ship passengers giddy with Green Gables and sporting Tilley hats increase our sidewalk traffic many times over.

How could you stay annoyed when you look at this cheerful ampelmann symbol on traffic signals in Germany? He is so popular he has his own chain of retail stores. (Dave Stewart )

The following reflects my keenly — and painfully — observed notes on sharing the sidewalk.

First, be alert. "Yeah, but everybody died on Game of Thrones last night. We need to talk about it," the shoulder-bruisers say.

I hear you, but that doesn't mean we have to give over completely to temporary brain fog. It's not like the sidewalks of Charlottetown are at a Himalayan altitude or anything. Keep an eye out. Other people exist, and we owe others the courtesy of their own space whenever possible. For further information, see Pauli's exclusion principle mentioned earlier in this piece, and Google "personal space" for a more in-depth illustration.

Charlottetown's sidewalks were designed more than a hundred years ago and are barely a skirt-bustle wide. (Regina Peters/CBC)

Next: sometimes you're a lot. When you're walking en masse, you're a force to be reckoned with. In short, compared to an individual, you're a tank, so take the responsibility of driving one. In a group, when you see someone coming toward you and space is an issue, um, move over. If you can't move over, go single file. Just for a couple of seconds. It's an elegant manoeuvre, and you'll look just like an Olympic synchronized swim team. Tens right across the board.

Finally, regardless of your black belt in sidewalk sharing, you still may end up shoulder to shoulder with a total stranger. If that should happen, please try to be good natured about it.

But if my plea for sidewalk harmony should fail, I'll have no choice but to step it up. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and I swear I'll find a way to work shoulder pads — the football kind, not the 1980s kind — into my wardrobe. Please don't make me do that.

If you have any notes about avoiding sidewalk collisions, please leave them in the comments. I'm curious to hear what you have to say.

Happy (and safe) sidewalking.

This column is an opinion. For more information about our commentary section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

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About the Author

Dave Stewart is an "ad man" at Graphcom in Charlottetown; a DIY filmmaker and musician; and contributor to The Buzz, Rue Morgue, Art Decades, Studio CX and online at He edited and contributed to the P.E.I. horror anthology Fear from a Small Place, and 26 two-minute episodes of his cartoon for The Buzz, And Yet I Blame Hollywood, were adapted on the CBC-TV show ZeD.


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