This blog post began life as a critique of 3 groups of road users in London, but as I realised that this was all based around one junction in one estate in London, I have amended it to be more specific and less generic. Having started by new job in a different part of the capital I can now see there are some subtle differences, even though much of the behaviour is shared between different estates.
I’ve worked in London, on and off, for a little under six years. From that, I’ve been able to make quite a lot of observations about the main competing factions within the city: pedestrians v cyclists v drivers. Much of what you are about to read, you may think is stereotype. Indeed, I used to think it was a stereotype, but the observational evidence demands that it actually be taken seriously.
Near to my old office there was a crossroads. These were controlled by a set of traffic lights. These were used by all 3 parties.
For most of the time I worked there, the traffic lights were extremely irrational. The traffic would be blocked off from travelling down one road, but the pedestrians were simultaneously prevented from crossing that same road. That is, the pedestrians had a red light. The trouble was, all the regular users of the crossing knew that there was no reason for the pedestrians to be shown the red light. So what we would do is to ignore the lights completely and observe the traffic. If you couldn’t see anything coming, you’d dash across the road.
Before I started to work in London, I always thought that the idea of cyclists being law-flouting road menaces was little more than unsubstantiated myth. But something seems to change as you get within the M25. The regular cyclists that you come across in towns and country lanes are replaced by a wholly different kind of animal; the only similarity being the mode of transport they use.
Cyclists around the Farringdon crossroads would adapt their behaviour to whatever suited their purpose. If the lights were green for the pedestrians, but red for the cars, they would often hop off their bikes and wheel them along with the rest of us. Sometimes they would ride along with, often bumping, the pedestrians as though they thought no one would notice that they had wheels which the rest of us didn’t.
But if the lights were green for the cars, then the cyclists were happy to pretend to be cars, though their impersonation of those that had petrol pumping through them was even less convincing than that their imitation of those filled with haemoglobin & plasma.
Probably the most law-abiding of the 3 groups were the drivers. But this is a comparative measure. Whenever the lights turned red, usually 3 or 4 more cars would creep across the line at which they were meant to stop, pretending that they didn’t see the lights change or perhaps they were just idly following the vehicle in front.
Typically, whoever had just been caught out by the lights (and hence, would be sat at the front of the queue) would quickly develop anger management issues. Frequently, as a pedestrian crossing when I was entitled to, the car driver nearest would rev their engines aggressively at those who they saw as the cause of the red light.
The relative ease with which the cyclists switched their identity was also a cause of vexation for the drivers, who would frequently wind down their windows just to shout abuse and obscenities at cyclists who were too far out of earshot half of the time.
Yet it was the drivers who were the biggest danger to others. When a pedestrian or a cyclist chooses to run a red light, they risk their own life. Though it does happen, deaths caused by cyclists to pedestrians or other cyclists are extremely rare. But some drivers chose to run red lights or make a right hand turn where they had no right to frequently risked the lives of others who were, at that time at least, abiding by the highway code.
The timings on the lights were re-jigged earlier this year. They became much more sensible, allowing more pedestrians to cross whilst not holding up traffic any more than previously. I don’t know if there was anyone killed at that junction in the 2 years I worked there. Of course, there are plenty of deaths on the roads in London in each.
What do I mean, “plenty”?
There are far too many deaths on the roads in London each year. If there weren’t any on that junction, then that is amazing. If there were any, I didn’t see them. On several occasions I was a few inches away from being one myself.