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Pokey pedestrians can set off walkers’ version of road rage

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You know what irritates me more than slow drivers? Slow walkers.

When I wrote about the state’s pedestrian master plan a few weeks ago, I caught myself talking story about pedestrian etiquette and how mad I get when I am behind a group of people who walk slowly.

Turns out I have pedestrian rage, says Leon James, a University of Hawaii psychology professor who specializes in driving and pedestrian behavior.

"It’s exactly the same thing as driving, because the condition is derived from competition," James says. "It’s normal when you are competing in a public place when others don’t follow the rules of the game. It’s normal to feel the desire to retaliate."

That retaliation could mean anything from giving someone the stink eye, to muttering under your breath, to tailgating someone in front of you to try to get them to speed up. Sounds a lot like road rage.

But what could cause such passive-aggressive behavior? I asked a few friends what ticks them off.

"People walking against the flow," says Mike Bracken, a horror-film critic living in Florida. "This happens in the mall a lot. I call them salmon."

"People who chauffer their little doggies — and it’s always a little doggy — in strollers on the sidewalk," says @p_dub on Twitter. "Slowing down foot traffic, and really, dogs have twice as many legs as humans. They’re supposed to walk."

Even James said his wife has to remind him of his own pedestrian rage, particularly at the mall when he tries to stick to the right side of the walkway.

"Some people come on to their left, and I can see there’s going to be a clash," he says. "I expect them to yield first because they’re walking on the wrong side. That’s where my aggressiveness comes in. I wouldn’t budge and they move. I was glad at that, and there’s my rage, enjoying the retaliation. I was punishing them for walking on the wrong side."

It all comes back to showing a little aloha. There is what he calls a "support pedestrian" syndrome, James says. For example, if a pedestrian in a parking lot walks slowly in front of a car, she should be aware of the car behind her and either try to get out of the way or at least give some acknowledgment.

"Of course, pedestrians always have the right of way, but they need to show the driver that they’re being considerate," James says.

There’s more info in James’ website,, that could help in easing the stress. But considering all the rage that still happens in the sidewalks and streets, it’s definitely no walk in the park.


Gene Park can be reached at email or on Twitter as @GenePark.

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