Mar 022019
Model Modal Manners: Move Like You’re in a Grocery Store

Urban Arrow bakfiets cargo bike borrowed from the G&O Family Cyclery website.

I’ve been developing this theory for a while now. The longer I ponder it the more I think it makes sense. Stay with me while I work through this line of reasoning: We’d dramatically improve transportation safety if we all moved around in cities the way we move around in a grocery store.

First, the vehicles. They’re almost all here.

  • Big utility carts: People driving semis, buses, delivery vans, other large, long motor vehicles
  • Full-size, fully loaded shopping carts: People driving SUVs and pickup trucks
  • Full-size shopping cart with not much of a load: People driving sedans and those cute little roller-skate cars
  • Small, shorter shopping carts: People on human-powered bicycles
  • Motorized seated scooter with front basket: People using wheelchairs, e-scooters, e-bikes
  • Basket you carry: People walking

Now, the behaviors. I am giving full credit for good manners in all descriptions.

Big utility carts: Their length and weight require you to steer them carefully around corners. You can’t just whip a turn on a dime. If you’re not careful you’re likely to ding someone’s ankle or knock product off a lower shelf, so you maneuver more carefully. If you hit someone with one of these even without any load on board at all, you’re going to hurt them.

Full-size, fully loaded shopping carts: Shorter than those flat-bed numbers, their loaded weight nonetheless forces you to slow down when turning a corner and you need to factor in stopping distance because the big load gives you a fair amount of inertia. Depending on how high you pile your load (hey, that was a great sale), you also may not be able to see in front of you the way you can with an emptier cart so you need to move more carefully. You can easily knock someone down with one of these babies, especially someone who’s shorter than cart height.

Full-size cart with not much of a load: This is a more nimble number with smaller mass but still takes up space. Turns easily, no load to block line of sight so you can spot shorter people or obstacles in front of you, assuming you’re not blind or low-vision. You can stop more easily than you could with a heavier load. You can still hurt someone with one of these babies–why is that lower metal tubing right at the height of my ankles?

Small, shorter shopping cart: Even more nimble and cute besides. It may not carry five bags of potting soil but that’s not what you need it to do. You can leave it parked in front of the spice shelf while you search for cardamom and someone else can easily get past you to grab some rosemary. Nine trips out of ten, this cart is the perfect size for what you need to get, so why mess with that bigger cart?

Side view of white cargo bike made by Urban Arrow with black front cargo box.
Urban Arrow bakfiets cargo bike borrowed from the G&O Family Cyclery website.

Motorized seated scooter with front basket: This one gives you the assist you need to move around. It doesn’t matter why you need to use it–it’s there for you. Your maneuvering and start/stop movements are a little different than that of someone pushing a cart since the motor gives you a boost. This unit takes up more space than just a human body.

Hand basket: You’ll move along under your own steam, taking up just the space your body occupies. You may walk more or less briskly depending on a variety of factors and the size of the load — and at times you may end up deciding to go back and grab one of those cute little carts after all because you’re carrying more than you had thought you would (that really was a great sale on your favorite red wine). Or you’re spending a lot of time wandering back and forth because you forgot your list and you keep remembering things and getting recipe ideas, so you’d like to have the cart to do some of the work for you (or is this just me?).

Now that we’ve established that this analogy works reasonably well, think about the manners most people exhibit in a grocery store.

They don’t speed through the store, ignoring everyone else’s need to move around and crashing their carts into others.

They slow before they make turns to check for oncoming traffic.

They yield to cross traffic.

They don’t behave as if they have sole right-of-way with everyone else expected to get out of their way.

If two people arrive at the intersection at the same moment they apologize and sort out who should go first.

They’re considerate of people who need to take a little longer, at least at the grocery stores I go to.

If they want to grab something off the shelf you’re pondering they say “Excuse me” and reach politely — they don’t push you aside or ignore the fact that you’re standing there.

They wait their turn in line.

The parking lot has designated spaces to return the carts and most people use those.

If you’re coming in from the lot to shop and spot a cart abandoned in the wrong spot, you’ll likely grab it and make use of it, or park it if it’s not the size you want — you don’t leave it there in everyone’s way.

The store is a lot busier at certain times of day and days of the week. If you shop during those times you know it will take longer. You could have a shorter wait if you shopped at a different time but maybe that doesn’t work for you so you’ll have to deal with this larger number of people doing the same thing you’re doing. Now if only more of them were just using a basket or a small cart, you’d get to the front of the line so much faster because they’re not taking the time and space of a big, fully loaded cart.

When you’re moving through the store you recognize that everyone there shares your goal, which is to do what you need to do and get where you need to go. Your behavior reflects the understanding that if everyone works together, the space works for everyone.

The next time you’re out moving around in transportation spaces, figure out which kind of grocery shopper you are. Does your behavior reflect the kind of manners you’d use in the grocery store? If not, what is it about the vehicle or mode you’re using that makes you behave differently? Where are your manners?

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