WALKING IN NEW YORK
I walk a lot in New York. I walk at least a mile a day and sometimes more than three miles.
New Yorkers are pedestrians. It has been said that, according to the 2000 census, 78 per cent of Manhattan households live without a car. There are few sparsely traveled sidewalks; many are crowded, except during rather limited off-peak hours, and some are always packed as in the Times Square neighborhood and down in Soho.
In view of the density, I marvel at the fact that people don't bump into each other. I've never bumped into another person or got bumped into; and I have never witnessed people colliding into each other. It is all the more remarkable because New Yorkers walk fast.
New Yorkers' pace matches mine perfectly. I walk fast in strides. I walked fast even in my young days when I used to walk in mincing steps. It is my temperament. It's not that I am always in a hurry to get somewhere. On a crowded sidewalk, I am agile in passing slower walkers and weaving between them without brushing anyone rudely. New Yorkers do that, too, as they do in crossing the streets at intersections. It is a notorious scene that shocks out-of-towners that they cross the street before the WALK sign appears and long after "DON'T WALK" sign stopped blinking. They weave between the fenders of the cars idling in the middle of the cross section or even inching on. In New York the pedestrian's right of way means that one can cross the street anytime so long as one is willing to risk getting hit by a car. I have yet to see anyone hit by a car at an intersection, however. Accidents do happen, I am in no doubt; but they are obviously very rare.
The New Yorkers' pace reflects the pulse of the city. Cities differ in this regard. For the first few weeks in Rome I keep stepping on the heels of other pedestrians. Roman streets are full of people who take their passeggiata after the midday dinner. But Romans stroll even when they are in a hurry, whereas New Yorkers are on the trot even when they are not in a hurry. After a year in Rome, back in any American city, I get my heels stepped on until I regain the pace natural to my temperament. Slow walkers are hazards in New York.
The Times Square is very trying in high tourist season. They saunter and they stop, gawking at the billboards or puzzling out the map they spread out in stretched arms. I am forgiving of tourists, however, because as an architectural historian I engage myself in similar obstructionist activities, inspecting at length and at times photographing buildings. People who suddenly stop in a crowded sidewalk make a nuisance. But an even more irritable obstruction is a tall man. He obstructs the view ahead. A tall and huge man in a bulky coat is the worst. I hate walking behind him; it is like tailgating a van. When he suddenly stops it is a disaster. An old woman tottering along on a cane is predictable and is no hazard.
On a packed sidewalk we are sometimes forced to step aside off the curb, and if the traffic is heavy on the road, it is quite unsafe. The most hazardous walk is going down the stairs to the subway platform against the onrush of discharged riders rushing upwards en masse. There are always some fools who try to tumble down by pushing people aside trying to catch the departing train.
I cover a good distance when I visit large museums. But at museums we don't walk; we dawdle and spend more time standing than walking. Still, one major exhibition tires us more than twenty street blocks.
So, in New York I walk a lot; it helps me stay healthy. Ironically, in Swarthmore, I don't to get to walk. I spend more time glued to the computer hours on end. My life in the country is sedentary.
T. Kaori Kitao, 11.13.02