Walk This Way: Hawaii’s Pedestrian Challenge

Which side of the sidewalk do you walk on? Different countries have different answers. Hawaii seems not to care.

At street crossings in many countries, pedestrians gather on either the right or left side of the sidewalk and cross the street in orderly fashion, passing in a sort of column. Not here. At crosswalks in Hawaii, pedestrians line completely across the walkway and head directly toward one another in a sort of free-for-all. At first, it looked to me like a rugby scrum, where the players head directly for one another in a big pile. But the Hawaii version is far more pedestrian. People avoid hitting one another by passing on either the right or the left as they head for the opposite side of the street — there is no discernible preference for one side over the other.

I first noticed that people don’t walk on the right side of the sidewalk when I visited as a tourist. I was walking on the bridge that links Ala Moana with Waikiki, going to the mall. That section of the sidewalk was empty except for a woman approaching from the opposite direction and me. As we neared one another, I moved toward the right side of the sidewalk. She moved to the left side of the sidewalk (from her direction). Now, rather than both of us being kind of in the middle, we were headed directly toward one another on the same side of the sidewalk. I wondered if her move was accidental, was she was going to move at the last minute? After all, she was on the WRONG side of the sidewalk! Eventually, I decided that avoiding collision was more important than principle and I moved back to the center.

I decided she must be a tourist from a country where people walk on the left side of the street. That would explain her confusion, but not mine: I thought pedestrians should follow the customs of the country they are visiting. As I started watching pedestrians in Hawaii — locals as well as tourists — it became obvious to me that Hawaii doesn’t really HAVE such a custom. Either side is fine. Rather than “walk this way” like the song, in Hawaii it seems to be “walk which way?”

Posted by: Bruce Fisher