On my way to the train station, I bumped into someone. I was in the Collins 231 Arcade, heading out towards Collins Street past the Dymocks Bookstore pit. There were two women walking ahead, at a slow pace. I went for a left side overtake just as one of them also swerved to the left, and I crashed into her jutting handbag. Her arm rose up in reflex, look of shock, vague apology, then both of resumed our walk on misaligned rhtyhms.
I take the shortcut through Collins 231 every time I go to Flinders Street Station. The back streets and alleys, Howey Place, Manchester Lane, Degraves Street, are more pleasant than crowded Swanston Street. They’re also more narrow, and traffic is more susceptible to the speed of other pedestrians.
Sidewalks have ambiguous status. People walk along them, alone or in small groups, going somewhere or wandering, at very different speeds. The fast walker faces all sorts of obstacles on their way: trees, terraces, kiosks; queues, window-shoppers, buskers and their audience; two-way traffic with no rules of priority; groups of gaping tourists, or couples leisurely strolling abreast of each other, with half a person’s empty space between them.
I often overtake. When the crowd is too dense, I walk on the road. Walking unimpeded brings a fundamental feeling of freedom that I’m not ready to give up. Others may see freedom as the right to walk slowly, stand on the sidewalk, or carry their extensive personal space with them even in dense urban centres.
We could all have it our way if there was just a bit more space. In fact, to the eye, there is; but hey – this beautiful broad stretch of road in the middle of the street, it’s not ours to use. Cars need their space too, don’t they.