Step lively-ish

May 06, 2007

People in big cities around the world are walking 10 percent faster than they did a decade ago, according to a study by an English psychologist that came out last week. Singaporeans were at the top of a list of 32 cities surveyed, but the pace has been picking up everywhere.

The study's author, Richard Wiseman, attributes this to anxiety, a general sort of Type A impatience, and the urge toward instantaneousness let loose by the cell phone.

New York was the only American city included, and it came in an unexciting eighth, just ahead of Utrecht, in the Netherlands. We decided, therefore, to see what all this might mean for Baltimore, so we set ourselves up on Pratt Street to gauge the pedestrian zeitgeist.

We were hampered, a little, because we didn't have an earlier local speed study for comparison, and we also didn't have a stopwatch or tape measure, so we couldn't actually figure out how fast people were going. So, OK, scientific it's not.

We saw just three people in a hurry, two of them women. One was listening to music and swinging her arms with gusto. The other was clutching a file folder tightly in her left hand and had her car key firmly in her right, ready for action. Here was the type Professor Wiseman was thinking of. She easily overtook a man in a blue shirt who was swinging his car keys in a repetitive and satisfying motion with one hand while tugging at his belt with the other. The third hurrier was a man with a cup of coffee in each hand; judging by the look on his face, they may have been hot.

One man had both hands on his belt buckle, and tilted his head with each step. A really slow guy was smoking and spitting and talking on his cell phone. A man in a pinstripe suit and yellow tie was frowning at his BlackBerry. Two young enthusiastic women: " ... I mean, we're partyers ... "

A couple with cigarettes held at exactly the same angle, ambling. A man in a red shirt, loping. Two guys in hard hats, looking up. A tall man in a Ravens shirt, his head down and his brows gathered as if they were armor.

A group of teenagers, admiring their reflections in the windows, walking with the exquisite slowness that only teenagers can muster. A woman in teal pants, slapping her thighs. A guy with enormous orange sunglasses, and a little pep to his step.

The conclusion? Whatever's goosing the rest of the world, not much of it has shown up on Pratt Street - at least not yet, at least not on a beautiful spring day.

This is Baltimore, isn't it? What's the rush?

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