This weekend, I put together a quick survey entitled “Sidewalk Bumping in New York City.” It consisted of 10 mostly multiple-choice with some write-in questions. I put the link on my Facebook page and quickly received 100 responses (the limit set for free surveys on Survey Monkey). The purpose of the survey was to explore New Yorkers’ experiences of being bumped by other pedestrians on the sidewalk--who's bumping them and what happens during that exchange?
The small sample size and limit to the number of questions contribute to this study not being especially scientific. Consider it a pilot study. (If I decide to shell out the $17 a month to Survey Monkey, I may launch it again to get more responses.) Also, people's responses are obviously subjective. Controlled field studies would provide more measurable results. (Any social psychologists out there interested?) Still, the findings offer some provocative trends to consider.
Most of the people who responded to the survey were women age 40 and over (53%), with men age 40 and over as the second largest group (25%), and the remainder were split 50/50 between men and women under the age of 40. This age spread is consistent with the readership of my Facebook page, and may also speak to the fact that women tend to be more active there than men.
In addition, the vast majority of respondents (73%) have lived and/or worked in New York City for 20 or more years.
Is it getting worse?
When asked “How often do you get bumped on the streets of New York City,” most respondents (59%) said only “sometimes.” However, the majority of respondents agreed that they are getting bumped more often than in the past, and most of those said that the situation has gotten worse largely in the past 5 years (52%).
Is height a factor?
I wondered if shorter or taller people were getting bumped more often than average-height people, but that theory did not bear out. Average-height people were actually more likely than short and tall people to say they’re “often” bumped.
Who’s doing the bumping—and to whom?
Whether they’ve been in New York for only 5 years or more than 20, male or female, and across the ages, the majority of respondents said that the biggest sidewalk bumpers are women in their 20s and 30s.
With 55% of the overall vote, young women bumpers beat out young men bumpers, who received 30% of the vote. The remaining categories (teens, and adults 40 and over) had insignificant numbers. 85% of the total bumpers are in their 20s and 30s.
Breaking down the question by the gender and age of respondents, men age 40 and up chose young women bumpers by 58%, and young men by 37%. For women age 40 and up, the numbers were lower (young women 53%, young men 29%). Men 40 and up say they're being bumped by young men more often than women 40 and up do.
For respondents in their 20s and 30s, 55% of young men selected young women as the biggest bumpers and 33% chose young men.
Young woman on young woman bumping is the highest of all, according to 60% of female respondents in their 20s/30s. However, young women say they are being bumped by young men at a significantly lower rate than any other group—a mere 10% selected young men as the biggest bumpers. From this, we might conjecture that young men give more space to young women due to physical attractiveness and its attendant social status. Studies have shown that young, attractive women are given more space on sidewalks, in general. Young women might also be bumping each other in a competitive way.
In addition, two respondents identified outside of male/female, one as a "tall cross-dresser" and the other as "androgynous." The second respondent reported, "the fact that I look the way I look is likely why I get bumped hard often." They both selected men, younger and older, as their biggest bumpers.
art by Desirre Jones
What do people do when they're bumped?
Young men most often opted to stand their ground and take the hit, and none chose to yield, while young women, along with men 40 and over, were more likely to yield and move out of the way, though some chose to stand their ground.
While a few in the above gender and age groups hit back, they don’t hit back like women over 40. Most older women in the survey (65%) said they “hit back hard.” They were 3 times as likely to hit back than older men were, and 9 times as likely to hit back than both younger men and women were.
This multiple-choice question also included a write-in "other" section. Some sample responses:
- Put my forearm across my midsection, elbow on the side of the offending party--results in 75% reduction.
- Curse them out New York style after being bumped. "Fuck you asshole!"
- When there is a group of 3 or more abreast coming towards me on a narrow sidewalk and it becomes clear that the one(s) to my right are not going to yield, I put my arms up as if blocking a tackle and keep walking. If they don't move, they get bumped.
- I used to move but not anymore...usually hit them with heavy grocery bag
- Pass on the right. Tell them they will never have this problem again if they pass on the right. How do people NOT know this?!
- Beep like a car.
- My latest when about to be bumped is saying in a loud voice "BEEP BEEP!"
- I yield or just say "Welcome to New York City! Please keep to your right!"
- Either shoulder down and bump or purse at balls height
- Lay prone and wait.
In which part of town are you most likely to get bumped?
This was a write-in answer and the responses varied. Some were more descriptive, such as “white neighborhoods,” “snooty areas,” and “anyplace with a sidewalk.” 9 people said “Manhattan.”
As for neighborhoods, the top three were: Midtown with 30 votes, the East Village/Lower East Side with 14, and Times Square tied Greenwich Village for third place with 9 each.
Also making it onto the board with more than a few votes were Chelsea and Soho with 8 votes each.
street sign by Jason Shelowitz
What do you notice about the people bumping you the most frequently (their race / class / gender, what they're carrying, what they're doing, etc.)?
This was another write-in question and answers varied widely, but some trends stood out. At the top, with 40 mentions, were people using cell phones to talk or text. Next, with 26 mentions, were women. And with 24 mentions, white people.
After that top three, youth was mentioned 18 times, middle- and upper-class status (including words like “privileged” and “entitled”) was noted 17 times, men and people in groups both got 15 mentions each, and tourists were mentioned 14 times. Some of these categories were combined, such as "white men in groups," or "young women on cell phones." I've tallied how many times each descriptor was noted.
Mentioned less than 10 times, in descending order of frequency from most to least, were also:
-People carrying large bags, either handbags or shopping bags
-People walking on the left side
-People in a hurry, looking busy
-People pushing strollers
-Older or middle-aged people
-People with umbrellas
-People wearing large, trendy sunglasses
-People carrying Starbucks or another “portable drink”
-People carrying yoga mats
According to these findings, there's more bumping on the sidewalks than just five years ago. This may be due to the increased use of cell phones, especially for texting, as well as a shifting population due to gentrification.
In a growing sector that may have to do with increased socioeconomic status, young white women, especially those using cell phones, are bumping their way up and down Manhattan, especially in Midtown, the East Village, and Greenwich Village. No matter who you are, you're getting bumped by them, but if you're also a young woman, you're getting bumped by them more. When that happens, you usually get out of their way.
Young men, you like to make room for young women. (Chivalry is not dead.) However, you don't do the same for women over 40--you bump them.
If you're a woman over 40, you often fight back against the bumping--with body slams, elbow jabs, hip checks, and obscenities. (Whoever you are, do not bump into a woman over 40. You will be sorry.)
Men over 40, not only are you being bumped by young women, but young guys are gunning for you. You usually get out of their way. (Probably a smart move.)
As for tourists, they're actually not as bad as we thought.
from Improv Everywhere
Addendum: Most memorable bumps
I asked people to share their most memorable experiences of being bumped. Here is just a handful:
- A bum once pretended that I bumped him, so he could drop his half-eaten hot dog, and wail "Oh miss! You owe me a hotdog!"
- 86th and Lex- Woman in yoga clothes with a big-ass bag on the crook of her tiny arms walks right into me and slams me with her bag. I called her a "fuckin bitch" and she looked all shocked like she just suddenly realized she's actually amongst people, sentient beings that think and talk! Get outta here!
- UES: A high school boy heading straight toward me while I was holding a very large and heavy hardbound book in my left hand. I was all the way to the right on the sidewalk and he refused to move over, not noticing the huge book right at his crotch level. He walked straight into it at a pretty good speed and doubled over in pain while his friends laughed at him and told him he should watch where he was walking.
- Just last week got bumped with something off a stroller..they did not even turn back..and I was black and blue later.
- I was on Saint Marks Place, where I live, on a weekend evening soon after NYU came back into session. The East Village sidewalks were filled with student types. A bunch of young white men came walking in a pack. As they passed by, one of them bumped me so hard he nearly knocked me off my feet and I ended up clinging to a tree to keep from falling. I let out a shriek. No one noticed, no one slowed down so I could reenter the flow of walkers. It was like I didn't exist. Couldn't help thinking it was an age thing—being in my 50s I was invisible to them all.
- Bumped by woman smoking on Broadway on UWS. She blew a mouthful of smoke in my face and when I protested she said go back to where you're from we are free to do this in America!
- It would be more accurate to say that I was the bumper as I was jogging on the sidewalk, encountered a zombie who had suddenly stopped dead in his tracks, naturally right in front of me. I yelled "heads up" but the email must've been so important that he couldn't be bothered to even look up. So I just body-checked him and kept going.
- I was on crutches (broken kneecap) and crossing 14th St. at 8th Ave. when a women came from behind me, didn't see me and kicked my crutch out from under me. I had to grab her arm to keep from falling down in the middle of the street. At first, she didn't seem to understand what had happened and I yelled at her that she had almost knocked me down in the street.
- Some business-dooshbag in Grand Central was heading straight @ me so I stopped, held my arms out and when he walked right into me, I gave him a hug & said, "come here, ya big galoot & give me some sugar".
- 25 years ago, I attended art school in midtown east, I was carrying a giant portfolio that was unwieldy. A VERY tall man bumped hard into me, he was wearing a light-grey super fuzzy mohair sweaters. My face went squarely into his sweater arm, complete with deep red lip gloss that I had JUST applied before leaving school. He did NOT apologize and just walked away. I did not feel one iota bad because he was a total jerk. I hope his wife/partner/lover etc. gave him shit when he arrived home - for having huge goopy lip prints on his spendy sweater.
- 53rd Street between Madison & Park Ave. Man in his 40s carrying long umbrella with curved handle brushes past me in a rush, but gets his umbrella handle caught on the pocket of my light, floaty summer dress. Pocket tears and I freak out & scream. He removes his umbrella, says nothing, barely looks at me, and keeps on going.
- after lip/face surgery , walking to the store and 11 pm and girl on the corner talking ..flung out her fist as i crossed the street and hit me in the mouth ... she kept on talking and laughing..
- I'm a senior walking home with a large backpack full of groceries and carrying a full shopping bag. I was making it over to a step to rest when 2 runners (men in their 30s) came around my left side. There was very little space between me and the building. The first one made it past without hitting me but the 2nd one didn't. I put my groceries down and looked up to see one of the runners coming toward me. I shook my fist at him. He came up to me and said that we have to accommodate others on the sidewalk, share the sidewalk. I asked him why he had passed me on the left and he said he didn't know that I was going that way. He kept repeating that we need to share the space. I said goodbye and he stared at me and said "you are a horrible person" I said he was a horrible person. He left saying that if he passed me again he'd hit me so hard I'd really know it. All this from someone who had bumped into me!
- I once got bumped into by Jackie Mason in the Theatre District somewhere. I remember he was short. We just moved on.
- Michael Stipe & I bumped into each other coming around the corner of B'way & 4th. We each said "sorry."