Research Rest-Stop │ A Scientific Look at How We Walk

Every Wednesday, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU) highlights some interesting research related to or innovations in transportation, sustainability, or energy.


When’s the last time you ever thought about how people walk or the science of walking in general? Chances are this motion of putting one foot before the other often goes unnoticed, as we focus on other activities and as research typically addresses pedestrian safety rather than the science of walking.

As a recent article in The Atlantic Cities highlighted, a new study out of the Max Planck Instit for Human Development in Berlin explores how pedestrians react to each other and sidewalk traffic. Mehdi Moussaid, the study’s author and a crowd scientist, argues that people, when walking straight towards each other, often select the appropriate side to take (left or right) through implicit social understanding. His conclusions discuss that the preference to walk on the left or right side of the sidewalk is often determined by the way others are using the space and that, in many cases, the preference to choose the left or right side “may be interpreted as a cultural bias.”

Since we drive on the right side of the road in the United States, it’s interesting to think about how our walking preference for the left or right side of the sidewalk may be determined by the way we travel when we drive. Next time you’re out and about and traveling down a sidewalk, think about how you’re moving and how others are moving around you. The coordination of how people travel around each other, especially on busy sidewalks, may surprise you.


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