Learn to Walk the Walk: DC Pedestrian Etiquette

Once you’ve landed that coveted D.C. internship, the first thing you should do is find a comfortable pair of “commuter shoes.” The second thing you should do is learn how to walk in those shoes. And we’re not talking about your confident, professional swagger. What we mean is that you better start learning the do’s and don’ts of D.C. pedestrian etiquette. The streets and sidewalks of this Capital City are buzzing with traffic on both wheel and foot. If you don’t follow these unspoken rules, you risk becoming a human speedbump … or at least the recipient of some less than pleasant honks, ridiculing glares and profanity laced shouts.

Walk on the RIGHT side of the sidewalk. Have you ever been strolling down the sidewalk when another person started walking straight toward you?  You both start doing that awkward zigzag dance of who is going to take the other side of the walkway. Well imagine that in a city where over 50% of its workers commute to the office by foot or public transportation.* That adds up to a lot of awkward games of chicken, and one serious foot-traffic delay. In a perfect pedestrian world, cities would paint yellow lines down the middle of their walkways, directing its commuters to walk to the right and pass on the left. Even if those lines don’t exist, D.C. is a much happier and prompt city when we all just imagine that they are there.

Single file, please! There’s nothing more annoying than trying to make your bus stop and being stifled by a massive sidewalk mob that won’t let you pass. We’re not saying that you can’t have a commuting buddy, but be mindful and courteous to your fellow walkway companions.

Keep your eyes on the sidewalk and off the Blackberry/iPhone! Even if a smart phone is not your vice, it’s easy to find your eyes wandering to your iPod or the morning’s free edition of the Washington Post Express. This city if full of distractions, but it’s also full of busy intersections. Think about it this way: no matter how important you think it is to check that email or read that news story before going into work, you’ll never make it to the office if you walk into oncoming traffic.

Obey the pedestrian traffic lights. Okay, so maybe this isn’t an unspoken rule. It’s actually the law. However, who isn’t guilty of bending pedestrian laws when in a hurry? Jaywalking here, ignoring a red walking signal there. But in a city this bustling, it’s important to play by the rules. Most intersections in D.C. have pedestrian traffic lights that let you know when it’s safe to walk, and when you should stay put. It’s not uncommon for pedestrians to take these signals as a suggestion, rather than a rule. D.C. intersections and traffic circles can be complicated, often seeing traffic from six different directions. You may think it’s a safe time to walk, but the traffic signals know best. Besides, you don’t want to be THAT intern who prematurely walks into the middle of an intersection, blocking traffic from turning left and causing an entire street to back up. Trust us, you don’t.

For more tips and tools on D.C. pedestrian rules, visit the District Department of Transportation website, or follow DDOT on Twitter at @DDOTDC.


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