So, recently the men with diggers have been busy digging up and resurfacing the Kennington Road*. After a slight glitch when they had to dig it up all over again to fix all the water mains they’d broken the first time around, it is now all lovely and smooth and they can get on with the fun part: decorating it. They’ve done most of the lines, and the writing and zig-zags and arrows and now they’re getting out their pretty coloured tarmac and colouring it all in. We’ve got a tasteful subdued burgundy for the bus lane and a rather brighter red for the pedestrian crossing (so the blood doesn’t show?) and – a new one for me – a sort of stylish beige for the lane approaching the crossing. On closer inspection, this appears to be an extra layer of grit that has been glued onto the road so that drivers who were approaching the crossing at speed can slam on their brakes more effectively when the lights suddenly change against them. These road-mending chaps think of everything these days.
Of course it would be even better if drivers could just approach the pedestrian crossing actually prepared to stop, but I suppose if one clever man with a grit lorry can undo the work of several dozen idiots armed with a car apiece, it’s better than nothing. I just wonder if they couldn’t have chosen a nicer colour than beige.
* Actually, it would probably be quicker these days to tell you which roads around us are not being dug up. Do you think they’re looking for oil? Or maybe just buried treasure…
Now regular readers will know that I am a staunch defender of cyclists, but today I found the boot (shoe? cleat?) was on the other foot. The other half and I were crossing a zebra, on the second half of the crossing, with plenty of time for the approaching white van and cyclist to see us and react. White Van Man did what good drivers do – he started to slow as soon as he saw us, so we knew he had seen us and was prepared to stop and we had the confidence to start to cross before he’d come to a full halt. This meant that by the time he reached the crossing we were out of his way and he could drive off barely delayed at all. And the cyclist? The cyclist approached the crossing at full tilt shouting something that sounded like ‘Bleuaurghfarghgurghaaaarghgra’ but which was probably meant to mean ‘get out of my way you puny pedestrians! How dare you impede my mighty progress?’ We in turn responded with something which was intended to come out as ‘Excuse me, old chap, but we’re exercising our right of way on a Zebra crossing, as laid down in the Highway code and it would be a courtesy if you would come to a complete halt,’ but at that hour of the morning came out as ‘Arsehole!’
If the number of bikes in the underpass at Vauxhall are anything to go by, cycling rates in London have doubled or even tripled in the last year. We’re no longer a beleaguered minority and we should stop behaving as one. Now the finer points of cycling road etiquette may be open to interpretation and debate, but after today’s adventure I can offer you one good rule of thumb which should serve in almost all situations: if you’re behaving like more of a dick than White Van Man, it’s time to amend your behaviour.
I thought I knew all about walking in London after the rain. I know that the drains are as often blocked as not, and that the puddles are consequently deep and wide and grimy with all the unspeakable grime that accumulates on London’s filthy streets. I know that while most cars slow or steer around them – if only because nobody really knows what lurks at the bottom of the deeper potholes – there are some that sail right through, drenching any passing pedestrians. And so I know that such puddles need to be given a wide berth or sprinted past during a lull in the traffic. But I thought I was safe in the underpasses for, while there are undoubtedly puddles there, there aren’t usually any cars, and a skateboard would have to get up a fair bit of speed to send up much in the way of a splash.
But I had not taken into account the underpass at the Elephant and Castle. For one of the roads around the shopping centre must have had a hefty puddle on the edge of the road. And one of the cars speeding round it must have decided not to avoid it for – after all – there were no pedestrians to splash. Or no visible pedestrians, at least. For what they and I had not counted on was that the resulting wall of water would rise up over the edge of the road barrier and descend on the head of anyone emerging from the tunnel below. The first I knew of this was when the water hit me square on the back of the head. I can only commend the young man who was walking towards me at the time for keeping such a straight face. I know I would have had a hard time of it had it been the other way around…
… I was texting while walking. And I’m of an age where sending a text requires a fair degree of concentration; I’m not one of the ‘thumb generation’. But I am one of the green cross code generation so I was making sure I wasn’t texting except when I was safely on the pavement. And I was therefore a little startled at having to look up and dodge the motorbike. The motorbike being ridden along the pavement, weaving through the pedestrians. What is going on? I think part of the problem is that in this part of London the economy seems to consist entirely of fried chicken joints, corner shops and motorbike repair places and the bike was going to one of the latter. But even so…
OK, I’m used to the fact now that most people in London don’t know how to use a zebra crossing, but PCSOs? I’m not talking about drivers here for once. Most drivers who abuse the zebras know – deep down in their stunted little hearts – that pedestrians have right of way on the zebra crossing, they just choose to ignore that fact because that way they don’t have to stop or even slow down. It’s only when I or people like me come along with our stroppy little ways, stepping boldly out in front of them with every indication that we haven’t seen them and will be denting their bumper some time soon if they don’t stop, that they come to a reluctant halt. And half the time, crossing along in my wake will be the small crowd of hapless pavementflowers who had been cowering on the edge of the road waiting for a gap in the traffic, possibly for some weeks.
But those, I thought, were probably tourists, who weren’t to be expected to know the exact rules for bullying drivers to a halt with a confident (but carefully judged) stride out into the road, the sort of stride that says I am related to not one but two lawyers and will not hesitate to sue. So I was a little startled this morning as I headed down for my run to find hovering nervously at the edge of the crossing a couple of PCSOs, in full uniform, waiting in vain for the traffic to stop for them. One car whizzed by while I was crossing the other half of the road and the one behind it was all set to follow, if the squeal of its brakes was anything to go by, had I not stepped out and asserted my right of way in front of it.
WTF? Surely, if anyone, these guys know the law? I’ve not got a beef with PCSOs in general – sure we want bobbies on the beat but more to the point we want bobbies out solving actual crimes. I don’t want to wake up and find my house has been burgled and nobody can arrest the wrongdoers because the real police are all busy walking up and down the South Bank with a measured tread, reassuring tourists and visibly deterring crime for the few hundred yards they can be seen in any direction. But I would have thought at some time during their however-many-weeks-it-is training the PCSOs would have been given a brief introduction into the traffic laws. Or maybe (having cleared up all the easy wi-fi bandwith thefts and with no other more pressing matters to attend to, for after all, nobody’s been shot in the borough for ooh, weeks, now) they were conducting a zebra crossing violator sting operation. In which case, I wish they’d caught the guy who didn’t just not stop but accelerated towards me on the crossing yesterday. In a Lambeth council van, too. I’m pretty sure I didn’t pay my council taxes for that.
Here’s how she probably described it when she got into work:
‘Oh my God, I was almost knocked down by one of those demented cyclists this morning! I was crossing the road and she screeched round the corner and almost went right into me. If I hadn’t cried out, I’m sure I would have been killed. Bloody cyclists.’
Here’s how I would have described it:
‘Oh my God, some stupid woman almost killed herself under my wheels this morning. I’d just turned left after Lambeth Bridge and I was swinging round so I’d go round the outside of her when she suddenly noticed I was there, stopped dead in her tracks and just screamed. I had to end up on the wrong side of the road to get round her. If she’d just kept on walking she’d have been fine. Bloody pedestrians.’
So who was right? Well obviously, I think I was, but as she had started to cross the road before I started to turn, she did have right of way. On the other hand, I had seen her, signalled my turn, and planned my line so that – had she only kept going – she need never even have noticed I was there. I was going fast – it’s only safe in London if you can keep pace with the traffic – but not excessively so. I could round corners at a more sedate speed and perhaps I wouldn’t startle so many pedestrians (except by the yellowness of my jacket) but I’d probably end up as the hood ornament of a taxi if I did.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of it though – and the floor is yours in the comments box – I’m fairly sure of one thing. If you’re a pedestrian and you suddenly see something coming, be it a bike or a car or a runaway bear, and the thing that is coming is not between you and the pavement you were heading for, keeping going is the safest course. Stopping and screaming is not.
Blimey. I know I was complaining about the pedestrian crossing lights at Vauxhall Cross yesterday, but I wasn’t expecting them to switch them off altogether. The lights were out coming and going today, and it’s a tricky junction at the best of times. Particularly coming out of the station where the traffic comes under the railway line and approaches the crossing on a blind bend. The technique this evening seemed to be for everyone to gather on the curb until enough pedestrians had built up to form some sort of a moral imperative. Then we waited, watching the people on the traffic island, who could at least see what was coming. Once one of them was bold – or foolish, or homicidal – enough to step out into a gap, then we all surged across, working on the assumption that they wouldn’t run us all down. The effect is similar to those wildlife programmes where the migrating zebra have to cross the crocodile-infested Zambesi, but with fewer stripes.
Anyway, that is definitely the last time I say anything disparaging about the lights on that particular junction. Oh, and drivers? If you’re approaching a crossing andthe lights are out and a pedestrian decides to cross rather than spend the rest of their life on a traffic island – don’t honk. They’ve got at least as much right of way in the circumstances as you do.