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Stroller Crossing

Wednesday, October 2, 2013
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Dear Readers,

Today I'm sharing a question of my own:

When I walk down city sidewalks pushing my kids in the double stroller, we take up a lot of room. Often, I'll wait for someone heading the other direction to pass us. Sometimes the other person will wait and wave us on. Recently, I was in a hurry and forged on ahead without paying too much attention to the pedestrians heading towards me. The couple stopped to let us pass, and we kept walking. A few paces later, one of the people said, "You're welcome," in a tone that indicated a true lack of welcome.  Since then, I've gone out of my way to thank people for stepping aside for us. Still, part of me feels like I have as much a right to the sidewalk as they do, and taking turns makes sense without a lot of congratulations for letting a parent walk with her kids. What's the right way to handle this kind of sidewalk congestion?

My hope is that by writing this response, I'll be able to clarify how to handle the situation. Here are some of my conclusions, but I'd love to hear how other parents and non-parent pedestrians have handled this.

  • Smile and be grateful: When someone opens the door for our giant double stroller, my daughter often says, "You don't need help, Mommy." She's wrong. I need tons of help. Every time someone steps aside on the sidewalk, he or she is making it possible for us to get where we're going. Saying thank you is always appropriate.
  • Treat it like a stop sign: Whoever gets there first gets to go. No one thanks the other cars at the stop sign for letting you drive when it's your turn. Sidewalks should operate the same way. Sure, occasionally someone will wave you on when it's not actually your rightful turn in the line-up, but in my experience, such waving where cars are concerned usually leads to more confusion.
  • Pre-empt the resentment: Before you get to a tight spot, say to the oncoming pedestrians, "Sorry, excuse us," or "Thanks for waiting," even if they haven't yet indicated that they planned to wait.
  • Be demure: Plan to be the one who waits no matter what. Though I have a right to the sidewalk, so does everyone else. By taking up so much space, I give up my right to the right of way.
     
  • Be oblivious: Talk to the kids, talk on the phone, look the other way, forge ahead no matter who's walking towards you.

Really, I think the best answer is to be alert and aware and take each situation as it comes. Some people are going to be jerks no matter what, and some people are going to be kind no matter what.  You don't know before you pass them on the street, so be prepared for either scenario. Another potentially good piece of advice that I'm not organized enough to do is to plan routes that avoid especially narrow or crowded sidewalks. It constantly amazes me the variety of size, shape and condition of Philly sidewalks, something I probably didn't notice in my pre-stroller days.

I'm trying to figure out a good way to make the comparison between strollers and wheelchairs without coming off as totally callous and entitled. SEPTA buses are, rightfully, fully handicap-accessible. While people may be annoyed, everyone usually acts polite while the driver stops to lower the bus and secure wheelchairs. However, when I need to get somewhere with both my kids on public transportation, the options are prohibitively difficult. Have you ever tried folding up a stroller while holding onto a baby and a toddler, then hoisting the stroller onto the waist-high luggage platform? Not gonna happen. When I have tried, the bus driver and other passengers have consistently yelled at me for taking up too much space and too much time.

Similarly, I was in a local cafe recently, once with and once without a stroller (a single one this time - not even that big!). I had a terrible time navigating around the chairs, and no one offered to help. When I was there by myself, at least six people got up to move chairs to help a customer in a wheelchair get through. I was glad to see people jump up to assist, but (see above) I really could've used some help, too. Maybe the real lesson here is that we should all be more grateful and less callous.

Again, I'll turn the question back to you: What's the right way to share public spaces with strollers? While I eagerly await your replies, if you see me coming down the sidewalk, feel free not to wait your turn. I'll try to say thank you anyway.

Be well,
Miriam

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