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Pedestrian etiquette guide during the coronavirus pandemic

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Maintain six feet of buffer space, beware of joggers, don’t pet pups, and more

a man jogging on a sidewalk in front of a bay and bridge.
A jogger wears a mask to protect himself—and others—from the coronavirus.
Photo by AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

Being a pedestrian in San Francisco is rough, as I noted in Curbed’s original pedestrian etiquette guide. Being a pedestrian in San Francisco under the duress of a shelter-in-place order is even rougher.

While most of us are supposed to stay at home—except for essential workers or for necessary trips for groceries, medicine, or care of others—we are allowed to venture out of our confines for the occasional stroll, all while wearing a protective face covering and maintaining the mandated six feet of buffer space.

Alas, not everyone is doing it right. “I’m really struggling with what to say to people who dip into my six-foot bubble,” says grocery store worker Jen Maiser. “It’s really in their best interest to social distance!”

To help you use the sidewalks the right way, I’ve compiled a new guide for pedestrians to heed during the pandemic. Readers, Curbed writers, and local notables have chimed in to help steer you in the right direction.


Make eye contact

While one of the nice things about living in a city is that you don’t have to engage with strangers, it’s now more important than ever to make eye contact with your fellow pedestrians. “If you’re socially distancing you need to look your fellow pedestrians in the eye to ensure you don’t barrel into each other,” says Eater SF’s Eve Batey. “Don’t assume that someone is going to just get out of your way, either.”

Beware of joggers and cyclists, many of whom aren’t wearing masks

During my daily excursion down Third Street, from SoMa to Dogpatch, few of the huffing runners or sweaty joggers I pass are wearing a face mask. Not all of them, but many. Be on the lookout for runners as your get some fresh air.

Runners should steer clear of busy areas with essential foot traffic. “If you are going for a run in an area that has a grocery store and restaurants, you are officially an asshole,” says Laura Foote, San Francisco resident and executive director of YIMBY Action. Consider yourselves warned.

As for cyclists, many of them are essential workers delivering food and goods to homebound folks. However, I’ve noticed a few two-wheeled rapscallions using the sidewalk as of late, which, pandemic or not, is always verboten.

Step out of your home slowly

Think about how you’d pull out of a driveway in a car, but by foot. “A few months ago, it wouldn’t feel like a big deal to brush against a passerby traveling perpendicular to you, but now it’s a dangerous incursion,” says Batey.

Talking on your phone

Pedestrians who talk on their smartphone while traversing sidewalks should refrain from doing so for obvious reasons. If you must, use your Air Pods, but your mask, assuming you’re wearing one per city mandate, will muffle your voice.

Stay on the sidewalk

Although the city has made minimal headway banning cars from streets during the stay-at-home orders, it’s still a good idea to stay on the sidewalk.

Except when you can’t stay on the sidewalk

Due to the city’s narrow sidewalks, sometimes stepping off the cement is required. Local writer Britta Shoot suggests, “Step off the curb and wait between parked cars if you can’t make enough space to safely pass others on the sidewalk.”

Sorry, no petting dogs for now

For many a canine lover, this will be the hardest rule to follow: Resist the urge to pet a pup, no matter how cute they might be. This is for the safety of you and the dog owner. Rest assured that the dog will get all the kisses and belly scratches at home.

Mind your leashes, humans

“People who walk dogs and manage to rope off the entire sidewalk with the leash need to get it together,” admonishes Eater SF reporter Becky Duffett.

Walk duckling-style when in a group

Groups of three or more need to be mindful of their overwhelming presences on sidewalks. In lieu of taking up nearly the entire width of the sidewalk, walk in a line.

Amorous couples should also be mindful. “If you want to hold hands, do it in your own home,” exclaims reader Tom Hilton “Don’t walk side by side like assholes.”

As for those traversing on scenic hiking trails, this sign, as seen in Los Altos at the Rancho San Antonio County Park, shows you how to walk safely on paths.

Don’t slalom down the avenue, slick

Some people move slow, and it’s beyond their control. The elderly, people with disabilities, or kids move at a slower pace. Be courteous.

A note for stopping and chatting with passersby

“When you stop and chat with others on a multi-use path coming from the other directions, courteously move to their side and six feet off the path plus six feet apart,” suggests reader Chris Kubik.

If you can, say hi.

Marta Lindsey of Walk San Francisco says, “We all need human connection more than ever, but with masks on, it takes extra effort to make that connection. When you’re out walking, call out a hello and give a wave from a safe distance.”

Remember: Drivers are still deadly

We know that people are stepping into the street at times for social distancing, but this has its own risks. “While San Francisco’s streets feel safer right now because of dramatically less traffic, dangerous driving is still happening,” notes Lindsey. “Nationwide, cities are reporting that dangerous vehicle speeds are up. Data from San Francisco’s red light cameras show higher than usual numbers of citations. The city must prioritize pedestrian safety so that when vehicle traffic increases, crashes don’t rise, too.”

Be mindful of how and where you park, drivers

“People shouldn’t park their cars in driveways, blocking the sidewalk,” says reader Chris Jerdonek. “It forces all pedestrians into the street. I’ve been seeing a lot of that in some of the less busy parts of town.”

It’s also a ticketable offense, and with the city’s parking enforcement workers left with far fewer drivers to cite, it’s more likely than ever that scofflaws will be caught.

While standing in line outside a store

“If you’re standing in a (spaced out) line to get into a grocery store or essential business, please all step to the same side,” says Duffett. “Every day, Noe Valley Whole Foods has people down the block, standing in the center of the sidewalk.”

Be kind to your fellow pedestrians

To quote High School Musical, a body of work so far ahead of its time that it’s hard to believe that it’s 14 years old, “We’re all in this together.” And how. As cabin fever sets in, many people feel increasingly agitated and annoyed, which can easily be taken out on other people.

“Go rogue,” said Curbed writer Diana Budds. “The real fight isn’t against your fellow walkers, it’s against cars.” Indeed, don’t trust cars to slow down if you’re walking in the street. That’s neither a sure nor safe bet. As reader Andrew Bader explains, “Putting a windshield in front of someone is an excuse to do dangerous things regardless of culpability or risk.”

This guide will be updated as the shelter-in-place orders remain in effect.