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I'm from the USA, where we drive on the right side of the street. When walking, I always felt like heavily trafficked areas manage themselves by imitating the automotive traffic (usually). Pedestrians approaching each other on the foot path avoid collision, typically, by veering right.

I haven't spent much time walking in left-lane oriented countries, but I've found myself in Melbourne Australia this week, mostly walking to get around. I feel like the other pedestrians want to veer left, not right. Is this typical, or is it just me? Do pedestrians imitate the order given to their automotive traffic? Do Australians veer left?

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    I'm tempted to say there's a duplicate around somewhere, where a UK user asked whether they were right in their observation that in the US you have to walk on the right, as their UK experience was that there was no standard. – AndyT Jul 19 at 11:35
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    In the Netherlands we also tend to go to the right. Btw, if in doubt, I sometimes hold my hand slightly more to the right (into the direction where I want to walk); by occupying like 6 inches more into the ' empty space' on the right, the person in front of me automatically veer to the left. – Michel Keijzers Jul 19 at 12:07
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    Interesting note: while Russia is right-lane oriented, in subway pedestrians are asked to go on left side of wide bidirectional passages. However, on escalators everybody stay on the right, so there's no complete answer I think :-). – val Jul 19 at 12:54
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    @val Different stations in the Tokyo metro have signs telling you to keep left/right, on what appeared to me to be a completely random per station basis, but presumably had something to do with the traffic patterns. I think one notable station had both types of signs in different areas. – mbrig Jul 19 at 19:44
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    There can also be other rules at play. I was taught that I gentleman should always take the side closer to the road when sharing the walkway with a lady. Also, if you're approaching someone that might be slightly risky in a semi-bad part of town, you might prefer the side closer to the road so you can't be cornered against the wall if things turn bad. – JoL Jul 20 at 17:13
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In Australia, people are encouraged to keep to the left in busy pedestrian areas. For example, here is a sign posted in a railway station in Sydney:

Keep left on stairs and ramps

In addition, doors, walkways and other structures are placed assuming pedestrians keep to the left. For example, you may notice that in Australia ticket gates, one-way doors and escalators are placed so that they are accessible from the left, and revolving doors rotate clockwise so you would enter and exit on the left.

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    I would have guessed a sign in that position in Oz is meant to be read by dogs and small marsupials, not by humans :) – alephzero Jul 19 at 11:58
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    You have just saved me considerable embarrassment if I ever attempt to use a revolving door in Australia. – Nuclear Wang Jul 19 at 12:47
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    In my secondary school, we had signs everywhere saying "Please walk on the left" in 8 different languages. School is a great example of heavy foot traffic between periods. – Dean Meehan Jul 19 at 15:44
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    @NuclearWang Revolving doors in the US can go both ways, but the pushbars on non-automatic ones are only on one side of the panels, which makes figuring it out unconscious. – chrylis -on strike- Jul 19 at 23:54
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    In Australia revolving doors rotate clockwise due to Coriolis Effect. – gboffi Jul 21 at 21:37
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This actually serves a practical purpose, and relates to something else: walking on a road that does not have an adjacent pavement/footpath, you are instructed to face incoming traffic. That is to say, in countries where you drive on the left of the road, you walk on the right of the road.

This means that you can see the vehicles that you (might) need to avoid or wave at to get the attention of, instead of being unexpectedly hit from behind by an inattentive driver.

By pedestrians passing on the same side as cars do, it means that the pedestrian who is now closer to the traffic is also facing the oncoming traffic - for exactly the same reasons given above.

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    As a footnote to this, certain codes of etiquette suggest that groups traditionally considered more vulnerable (with varying degrees of rationality children, animals, the elderly and women) should always be passed to the carriageway side. – origimbo Jul 19 at 13:14
  • At least in the US this is true. Unfortunately many people don't seem to know or follow it though. – Captain Man Jul 19 at 15:13
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    @origimbo I always have young children and strollers pass on the safest side if it's a narrow path. – fredsbend Jul 19 at 19:15
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    This is not true for some countries. In Myanmar, for example, where pedestrian traffic was considered the same as vehicle, bicycle, and animal traffic, you walk in the same direction as the traffic. (I asked a local when I was there and was informed of this very sternly.) – Roddy of the Frozen Peas Jul 19 at 22:04
  • While it is indeed better to walk on the "wrong" side of the road (when walking on the road), in my experience, most people tend to walk on the "right" side naturally and only consciously go to the better "wrong" side. That serves - in my opinion - as proof that people do in fact naturally veer to imitate the automotive traffic, more so than what is the better thing to do. – Jasper Jul 22 at 11:36
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If you ask a bunch of people this question, you'll usually get one of two answers:

  1. Pedestrians pass each other on the same side as vehicle traffic does
  2. It doesn't matter

So, if you are in Australia then you aren't likely to run into problems if you veer to the left. The people who answer (1) above will expect you to do so, and the people who answer (2) won't care.

What you don't generally want to do is veer to the right, where people who are expecting (1) above will do a little "I'm really trying not to walk straight into you" dance.

(Just like in the USA, where if you veer to the left then you run the risk of walking into people who insist on veering to their right. Again, for people who don't think it matters then there won't be a problem either way.)

  • Sound logic. I was hoping for more verification that pedestrians imitate autos ... My experience this week thus far has been a lot of "I'm really trying not to walk straight into you" dancing, because I veer right out of habit. – fredsbend Jul 19 at 3:14
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    Correct. If you pick a side (in Melbourne), pick left. I don't know of any places where there is a usual pedestrian side which does not follow the vehicle side. But there are a lot of places where there is no "usual" pedestrian side and it's a free-for-all. – Greg Hewgill Jul 19 at 3:17
  • My experience as a runner along a downtown canal walkway in a midwest US city is that the majority fall into category 3) "Not paying enough attention to even notice". I also noticed that last summer during a few short days in London, most there fell into category 2). I found both quite frustrating as I'm very much in category 1). – FreeMan Jul 19 at 13:31
  • Third opinion: keep right; because it's the same as the pedestrian-car interaction (which is always the opposite of car-car interaction). – Joshua Jul 19 at 15:53
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    @only_pro Well, I'd be interested in seeing it. It might make a good answer. – fredsbend Jul 19 at 20:44
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Yes, except on escalators (at least in England).

In England, on escalators on train stations and underground stations, "traffic" is actually continental. I was surprised to see signs that instruct people to stand to the right, pass to the left, exactly as one would do in France or Germany, and exactly opposite to wheeled traffic, which of course would pass to the right exclusively. I don't know if this convention applies when not signposted; there tend to be many signs in English train stations (including for such wisdoms as "don't take a suitcase on the escalator", "drink plenty of water", and "if you see something, contact the police")

  • That's just escalators though. Passageways vary - some are keep left, some are keep right. – AakashM Jul 19 at 8:59
  • Interestingly, in Japan (driving on the left), it's customary to stand on escalators on the left and pass on the right. This caught me out more than once. – Aleks G Jul 19 at 10:49
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    Except where signposted (which is usually in busy pedestrian passageways, stairs and escalators in railway stations), there is no convention whatsoever of pedestrians keeping to one side or the other in the UK. The closest to a convention is that one is advised not to walk at the kerbside or in the road with one's back to the traffic; that amounts to "keep left" if the pavement is only wide enough for two pedestrians, but that's usually not the case. – David Richerby Jul 19 at 10:56
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    @DavidRicherby Walk facing traffic is a common rule, but not on escalators :-) – gerrit Jul 19 at 11:15
  • @AleksG It depends where in Japan. In Kansai (Osaka, etc.) it's stand on the left. – John Jul 19 at 11:24
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There are actually three options, not two. There are countries where pedestrians pass each other on the right, which generally also drive on the right. There are countries where pedestrians pass each other on the left, which generally also drive on the left. But there are also countries like the UK, where there is no general rule (for pedestrians; there obviously is for driving), and pedestrians approaching each other work out which way to go on a case-by-case basis using tiny cues (and sometimes get it wrong, and both of them keep swapping from side to side).

When someone from a country that always passes on the same side visits somewhere with no such standard, they tend to bump into people.

  • These days you can add a 4th one too: people with a mobile phone in their hands who expect everyone else to work around them no matter what... – Flexo Jul 21 at 21:09
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I can tell you that, as a transplant to Melbourne, I wish people kept to the left. In practise, in this particular city, they seem to wander wherever they please, oblivious to everyone else on the footpath.

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