by Melinda Gallo

Chi cammina sui marciapiedi?

As I walked to the gym this morning, I was wondering why even though there is a small marciapiede (sidewalk) on our street (and many streets downtown), people generally walk in the street. Even women pushing babies in strollers do the same. It sounds dangerous, but it really isn't as long as you know how to do it safely.

There are many reasons, I think, why people don't walk on the sidewalks. First, most sidewalks downtown are about 2 feet wide and are made of large slabs of rectangular stone put together by what looks like sand and water. People walk quickly out of their buildings and onto the sidewalks, so you have to watch out for them. I think that the sidewalk is only there to prevent cars from parking too close to the front of apartment buildings.

In some spots on the sidewalk, especially early in the morning, there are doggie poops. Enough of them litter the streets that when I do walk on the sidewalk, I have to look down at the ground to make sure I don't step in any.

I take a few more risks walking in the street to walk a little faster (even though some dogs do it in the street too). What's interesting are the understood rules that are involved with walking in the street. First off, if you hear a car, you move over to the side or go onto the sidewalk. Second, if you hear a scooter (and unfortunately the electric ones creep up on you without much noise unless the driver coughs), you slowly move in one direction to get out of the way. Third, and you can't miss this, if you hear a bicycle rider ring his bell once, that means "I'm coming!" If he/she rings the bell two times, that means "Move over, I'm coming!" And, if he/she rings it multiple times, it means that there might be an accident, but you've been warned.

One day when I was walking downtown away from Ponte Vecchio and toward Piazza Repubblica, a man on a bicycle rang his bell, first a few times and then many, many times. There were hundreds of people in the mostly pedestrian street, so I didn't feel concerned, but I was. As he went by me, he stared me down and said something under his breath to me.

The other great reason for walking in the street is just pure speed. When I'm in a hurry to get somewhere (as I usually am for no good reason), I walk in the street against traffic so that I can see most cars, scooters, and bicycles as they come toward me. Then, I can jump up on the sidewalk to avoid them quickly and easily. In this way, I just have to avoid the other pedestrians who slowly move over (if at all) when I get back on the sidewalk. There is a whole different set of rules that apply when sharing the sidewalk with other people.

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