Atlantic Cities

Now These Could Be Useful: Pedestrian Penalty Cards

Now These Could Be Useful: Pedestrian Penalty Cards
Cory Bortnicker

City traffic may be as bad as it's ever been, but navigating city sidewalks is no picnic either. At least now there's a way to enforce proper walking etiquette. Introducing Pedestrian Penalty Cards — tagline: "protecting the sanctity of our sidewalks."

The cards are the brainchild of writer Cory Bortnicker, whose previous projects include the addictive Malcolm Gladwell Book Generator. Bortnicker, who's been in New York about seven years and works in advertising, created the set late last year with the help of illustrator Andy Jimison. (Early warning: many of the cards use semi-NSFW language.)

"I've lived here for a number of years, but it's always a pet peeve of mine when people seem not to follow what I consider very basic pedestrian rules of the sidewalks," says Bortnicker. "So it was really sort of a way to channel my own personal street rage into something creative and fun."

The cards assign severity ratings for unruly pedestrian behavior ranging from Escalator Idiocy (a 9.7 rating) to Wearing a Surgeon's Mask (a 4.3). While the ratings were entirely arbitrary, the underlying sense of impropriety was pure. Bortnicker says he envisioned people handing out the cards to bad walkers — just as referees issue yellow and red cards to during soccer games to offending players — but admits he'd never actually use them himself.

"If people are crazed enough to do it, I'd love nothing more," he tells Atlantic Cities.

Presumably the penalties reflect your personal experience.

I think they reflect the experience of a lot of New Yorkers, and I'm sure that a lot of the violations apply across cities globally. If you're by yourself, if you're a solo walker in a crowded city, everyone is ripe to somehow get in your way. The cards that we wrote were ones that, for me, were top of the mind. But certainly it's a never-ending list of violations.

On a personal level, when you're walking down the street, what type of thing irks you the most?

The large umbrellas. People who have golf umbrellas in the city — it's just absolutely unnecessary, and it's dangerous. You can get your eye cut out. They tend to be a certain type of person, who has the gall and the gumption to use an umbrella that size. How dare they even get a drop of water on them. Whereas I just use a hood. I think the oversize umbrella violators are the worst.

Also, I think, when there's more than four people walking in a line. Not only are they in your way, but they're sort of reminding you that they have three other people to hang out and you're by yourself stuck behind them. So it's frustrating on multiple levels, for that one.

I noticed in Tokyo recently that people carry clear umbrellas, and I asked why, and apparently they do it so they don't run into other people.

I think that's brilliant. If you've got an opaque umbrella you have no idea what's in front of you. I think that's a great solution. If they were limited to a certain size, I'd be all for that being the standard umbrella going forward.

I have to take issue with Condemning a Cab Upstreamer. To me, you just don't take someone else's cab. That doesn't strike you as borderline anarchic behavior?

That is a controversial one. It does sort of embrace the Wild West nature of New York City pedestrian life. I think that is one area where the Wild West mentality is ok. You have to do what you have to do to get around in the city. So I think it fits with the overall ethos of the project, which is, you've got some place to be and it's up to you to get there, and others be damned. They're obstacles. So if you're upstreaming, that's fine, but if you're going to condemn someone for upstreaming, that's a penalty.

We can agree to disagree. Do you expect to expand the series at any point?

Yes, we definitely do have plans to expand the concept. We're thinking about doing some other stuff besides pedestrian etiquette. Expand it to other lifestyle etiquette questions. At the bar, or in the office, or riding the subway. I love these sort of social etiquette questions. I think they're hilarious. Penalty cards in general — I think there's a lot of room for more.

Images courtesy Cory Bortnicker.

Eric Jaffe is a contributing writer to The Atlantic Cities and the author of A Curious Madness (2014) and The King's Best Highway (2010). He lives in New York. All posts »

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