Walk Like a Fish

The New York Times:

NOBODY in their right mind visits Midtown Manhattan during the holidays. The reason is simple: everyone, it seems, is in Midtown Manhattan during the holidays. Drawn to the scene like lacewings to streetlights, tourists jam the sidewalks, the crowds slow-moving, veering, shopping-bag-laden, and only vaguely walking forward.

New Yorkers normally roll their eyes, but they ought to take a closer look: watching these tourists interrupt the flow of traffic shows us how well pedestrians in our city usually move. This year I slowed down and observed them.

The study of pedestrian movement took off with the urban sociologist William H. Whyte, who in the 1970s recorded walkers’ behavior in the city, noting loitering and flirting; capturing the dynamics of bus-stop queuing; and analyzing how the throngs of people mostly managed to cooperate, instead of dissolving into a turbulent rumpus. What he found is how reliably pedestrians automatically adjust to one another’s behavior. Modeling this behavior is now a field of study, invoking everything from fluid dynamics to behavioral heuristics to describe how we navigate our sidewalks, swollen with people, without saying a word to one another.

Read the whole story: The New York Times

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