The Sidewalk Protectorate Factor

Let me throw out a “what if” scenario.

Let’s assume some guy was dating some girl. Let’s assume that they were walking down a busy street on a sidewalk. Let’s assume that the guy was walking on the street side while the girl was walking on the side further away from the street. Let’s assume a car came out of nowhere and smashed into both of them, killing them instantly. The fact that the guy was walking on the street side would have added no additional protection in the least.

Yet strangely, there’s a group of people out there who will always insist that it is necessary (if you care about them) to walk on the street side of the sidewalk in an attempt to keep them safe from the ambiguous dangers of the ‘crete. (Concrete, that is.)

While the sidewalk protectorate factor is not often spoken of, it is something that I have come in contact with over and over again. Apparently, just like opening the door to the car and a building… And just like asking the opposite sex out on a date… Chivalry being not dead apparently extends to the act of walking on the street side of the sidewalk so that you are in the position to fully protect your co-walker in the event that something disastrous happens.

I say the side of the sidewalk NOT facing the street is the more dangerous side of the sidewalk.

I can think of a thousand dangerous things on the non-street side of the sidewalk. From local business owners tossing out rotten fish guts at the end of the business day to bicycle riders weaving in and out of the safe side of the sidewalk to doors opening and closing and awnings with the potential to come crashing down on the “safe side” of the sidewalk — the fact of the matter is that the safe side is not the safe side at all.

So why do particular people insist that if you don’t walk on the street side of the sidewalk, you are basically alluding to the fact that you couldn’t care less about their safety?

The dangerous things that could come at you from the street side of a sidewalk will not only kill me, but they will kill you as well. A careening truck carrying huge dumpsters will crush us both. An out-of-control vehicle will get both of us at the same time. Loose nuclear waste spraying forth from a nuclear waste-carrying truck will both spray both of us (think about the arc of spraying nuclear waste and you’ll see what I mean). Huge loose ball bearings from a local construction site, will get us both.

And if we’re talking about dangerous criminals wielding guns and looking for people to rob — these people don’t hang out in the street — they hang out under awnings and behind magazines waiting for the person on the “safe side of the sidewalk” (who happens to be accompanied by another person who happens to be concentrating more on the dangers that COULD be coming from the street instead of the guy about to rob you) to walk by, cluelessly.

The safe side of the sidewalk is not safe after all.

So instead of being annoyed that I don’t always instinctively walk on the street side of the sidewalk in an attempt to protect you from the dangers of the mid-day traffic, perhaps we should create an object that can protect both of us no matter where we are walking. Perhaps a neoprene bubble fortified with teflon that we can walk freely inside of is the way to go. Or perhaps lobbying local law makers to erect huge walls where the street and sidewalk meet (like freeway walls) is the choice of the day.

Or even better, you could just stop thinking that the street side of the sidewalk is the dangerous part of the path and not worry about which side I stand on from this day forth.

Sidewalk, schmidewalk I always say.

And I think, when you really take the time to reflect upon that intellectual statement — you’ll totally agree.

35 comments on “The Sidewalk Protectorate Factor

  1. pylorns - November 29, 2005 at 8:41 am -

    Here’s the reasons behind it: – I couldn’t remeber all the history so I googled it to be more acurate.
    Over a hundred years ago, horse-drawn carriages would speed by on muddy streets and splash defenseless pedestrians walking by the side of the road. The story goes that back then, when a chivalrous man walked down the street with a woman, he would assume the position next to the street. If a passing buggy should splash in their direction, the man would shield the woman from harm and hard-to-remove stains.

  2. Pauly D - November 29, 2005 at 8:46 am -

    Well, with the disappearance of buggies, so too goes the not-so-safe sidewalk walking scenario.

  3. heather - November 29, 2005 at 8:50 am -

    Everyone knows that the reason a guy walks on the road-side of the sidewalk is to minimize the Hollywood-type splash-factor on the girl’s expensive, pretty shoes. It has nothing to do with “protection” from robbers or construction ball thingees.


  4. Keith - November 29, 2005 at 9:02 am -

    I looked it up on — the sidewalk thng has nothing to do with buggies and mud puddles at all. It seems that alien abductions were prevalent in the 1880s, but that the roadways were the places in town where the flying saucers would swoop in and land because they were wide enough and cleared of trees and rocks, then the aliens would come out and snatch the person closest to them — which is whoever was on the outside of the sidewalk. Guys were being chivalrous after all and protecting their women from possible alien kidnapping. And since we never know when the aliens will be coming back, the practice continues.

  5. Brian J. Hong - November 29, 2005 at 9:49 am -

    Well, it depends. Is the girl Abby? =P

  6. Nathan Logan - November 29, 2005 at 9:52 am -

    And since we never know when the aliens will be coming back…

    Sounds like someone (KEITH!) needs to invest in a magic 8-ball, or at least ask for one for Christmas/Chanukah/Hannukah/Chinese New Year.

  7. Pauly D - November 29, 2005 at 9:58 am -

    I’m just impressed that Nathan spelled out all the versions of HA-NU-KAH. Good going.

    Although, what do you have against Kwanzaa?

  8. Jackal - November 29, 2005 at 10:12 am -

    H’mmm good point.

  9. Nathan Logan - November 29, 2005 at 10:13 am -

    Everyone knows that you don’t give/receive gifts on Kwanzaa. It violated Kwanzaaneeze code.

    My apologies to all Kwanzaans out there, for Paul. He means well.

  10. Nathan Logan - November 29, 2005 at 10:14 am -


  11. kristine - November 29, 2005 at 10:32 am -

    wow, paul. you’ve got your readers doing your research now?!

    fwiw (for what it’s worth, that is) i do that with people i’m walking with–children, my mom, my dog (yes, she is a person). but i’m a girl. does that make me manly? homosexual? just let me know so i can plan accordingly for this weekend. thanks!


  12. Pauly D - November 29, 2005 at 10:35 am -

    Kristine – I don’t care IF you do it, what I care about is WHY you do it. If you do it to protect them from SOMETHING, I’d like to know just what it is you think you’re protecting them from.

    My point isn’t that it’s “manly” or “homosexual” — my point is that there is no point in standing on either side of the sidewalk equation.

  13. kingbenny - November 29, 2005 at 10:43 am -

    You’re saving them _from themselves_. What if, perchance, they stumbled and fell onto the road in front of a car?

  14. Pauly D - November 29, 2005 at 10:48 am -

    But why do “I” have to do it, KB?

  15. Veronica - November 29, 2005 at 11:08 am -

    The guy is on that side of the sidewalk so he can cover his lady from curious eyes in case the wind from passing cars lifts her dress.

  16. monkeyinabox - November 29, 2005 at 11:34 am -

    People don’t care about running over a guy, but a pretty girl is another thing. But the girl on the outside!

  17. Wendi - November 29, 2005 at 11:39 am -

    there’s no helping me when i walk…so it doesn’t matter what side of the street i’m on…i’ll manage to have some sort of folly either way

  18. Brie - November 29, 2005 at 11:43 am -

    I was always taught that it was the splash factor. Though growing up my mom always told me to have my friends walk on the outside in case any child snatchers drove by, that way they would be taken and I would be safe. That said, I did walk to kindergarten past a wooded area and would more than likely be snatched from the other side.

  19. kristine - November 29, 2005 at 12:01 pm -

    well, if it’s a light tap (c’mon, that totally does happen. my cousin was lightly tapped by a cab once.) then the positioning totally counts for something.

    i stand tall and manly in the “light tap” corner.

  20. Flower Girl - November 29, 2005 at 12:21 pm -

    This is strange…I’ve never heard of this phenomenon before. My boyfriend just picks me up and carries me wherever we go. Am I the only one?

  21. Serra - November 29, 2005 at 12:43 pm -

    Pauly, you KNOW I have to toss a two cents’ worth in here…

    A Latino man from a much larger city than the little two-horse town I lived in during the time I learned this tidbit told me the REAL reason for the man-on-the-street-side.

    I never understood why my date HAD to walk on the outside side of the sidewalk. I finally got annoyed with the fan-dancing and asked.

    His explanation? His position beside me communicated my status to everyone else on the street. If he was on the outside, his companion was his date, friend, family or other respectable woman.

    If he took the inside of the sidewalk and left the lady to the street side, it meant her services were for sale.

    Chivalrous? Yep, just not quite as pretty as the other explanations here.

  22. Too Many Words - November 29, 2005 at 12:49 pm -

    Local Link Rundown

    In which I remind people of interesting stuff in the area.

  23. the swede - November 29, 2005 at 1:13 pm -

    “If he took the inside of the sidewalk and left the lady to the street side, it meant her services were for sale.”

    Suddenly I have a bone to pick with some of my male friends…

  24. benny - November 29, 2005 at 1:26 pm -

    Wow, I gotta admit I kinda like the above chivalrous explanation. And Pauly, its perfectly fair of you to ask why it has to be YOU – but in this day and age of wide sidewalks, it has to be SOMEBODY. Or else we could all just walk serially, one after the other.

  25. Glen C. - November 29, 2005 at 5:57 pm -

    Crap, I’ve never thought about this before. Now I will always think about it when I walk on the sidewalk. This is going t o bug the hell out of me. Thanks Pauly >:|

  26. better safe than sorry - November 29, 2005 at 6:21 pm -

    i think it has something to do with the splash effect. i’m a mom, when i walk with my kids, i always take the outside of the sidewalk, it makes me feel like i’m protecting them and helped stop them from running onto the street when they were little.

  27. Lynn - November 29, 2005 at 9:42 pm -

    How do gay and lesbian couples sort this kind of thing out?

  28. Melina - November 29, 2005 at 10:34 pm -

    I’m with BSTS….I always took, and still take, the outside to “curb” my children from possibly breaking from my holding their hand and running into the street as well.

    It’s akin to when I’m queued up in line somewhere as well and I rock back and forth. The rocking thingy started by having a baby on my hip whilst waiting, and I still catch myself doing that. This revelation has nothing to do with sidewalk protection factor, but it is one of those “things” that you just do, to, um DO.

  29. nic - November 30, 2005 at 5:01 am -

    You can walk on the inside when you walk with me … but I still wanna be on top.

  30. Alissa - November 30, 2005 at 6:16 am -

    I had an ex who always walked on the outside, we’d round a corner, I would be talking and then he’d disappear behind me to switch sides. I found it fairly annoying. He also did the stairs thing – the man walks behind you when you’re ascending (so he can catch you when you fall) and in front of you when you’re descending so he can break your fall.

  31. Chris - November 30, 2005 at 7:23 am -

    I walk behind the lady on the stairs so I can stare at her ass. Simple as that.

  32. Lynn - November 30, 2005 at 7:45 am -

    I knew men did that on purpose on the stairs. I can always feel their eyes on my tush when they are behind me. That “after you” nonsense is just a smokescreen for their real intentions.

  33. Avestriel - November 30, 2005 at 9:31 am -

    Not that this has much to do with the topic of conversation, or anything to do with the original post but Kwanzaa was created in the late 60’s by a man who calls himself Dr. Maulana Karenga. Actually his real name is Ron Everett, a black panther, and ex-convict from Parsonsburgh MD, but he renamed himself Maulana which is swahili for “Master Teacher” Although I have infinite respect for a person who can just rewrite themselves and invent a fictitious religious history for an entire people and be believed, embraced, and made rich by it… I refuse to respect Kwanzaa, especially the way people insist it has something to do with Africa. I just wish that whoever the lawyers were who went after miss Cleo for not actually being jamaican would begin to fight the battle against teaching grade school children that Kwanzaa is an African tradition. Well, no… actually I don’t really care that much I just wanted a reason to mention that Miss Cleo was sued for misrepresenting herself as Jamaican.

  34. anonymous city girl - November 30, 2005 at 12:51 pm -

    In Philly, even if it hasn’t rained in months, there always seems to be puddles of fluid in the streets by the curb… taxis and SUV’s seem to take joy in driving thru them as fast as possible to make them splash any near by pedestrians. Then it rains the puddles get ankle deep, this is why we all walk as close to the buildings in the rain and dash when we have to walk around a stoop (closer to the street) and if a man is gentleman and is crossing paths with a woman, he’ll move to allow her to pass farthest from the street.

    But then again, you’re in LA… you people don’t walk anywhere!

  35. Rabbit - December 2, 2005 at 2:23 pm -

    My guy always walks on the street side. He claims it has something to do with chivalry, but I suspect he’s trying to block me from getting to the road. I make him nervous because I’ll dart out in front of traffic shouting back to him, “They’ll stop.”

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