Jenny: For your information, pal, that was a yellow light back there!
Starman: I watched you very carefully: red light, stop; green light, go; yellow light, go very fast.
I’m more likely to be this terrified than any actual car driver in London, seeing as I’m the one in danger
I’ve finally urged myself into writing in this blog again, and it’s a complaint about people driving (and operating other vehicles) here in London. Aren’t you lucky I found the strength to type? After all, I don’t want to neglect this, even if the only people signing up seem to be random Outlook.com addresses, which don’t seem to increase my number of subscribers…
Long-time readers may remember my first ever serious complaints post, and even back then, I was slagging off London cabbies; this hasn’t changed, as they still drive through red lights, apparently hoping that pedestrians won’t start crossing for a couple of seconds — because hey, your convenience is more important than pedestrian safety! In all honesty, screw the bullies of the road, regardless of how good they are at “the Knowledge” — I’d rather people were late for appointments than I was lying dead in the street.
Having said that, my current medical condition has made me a lot more brash in crossing London streets: if I have to die some day, it’d be a lot worse for it to happen on the operating table, thus risking the NHS’s future, than on the bumper of some arrogant driver who would deservedly lose his licence. Like the idiot who turned into the side street I was crossing, but didn’t flash his indicators — I calmly walked in front of his SUV without flinching, and refused to hurry up and get out of his way.
(My mother’s probably gasping at my recklessness even now, but don’t worry, Mumsy: I have no intention of actually dying any decade soon!)
It didn’t help back when I worked near King’s Cross, and simply trying to cross the road would often mean dicing with death: drivers would often race the yellow light at the top of Grays Inn Road, but risk getting stuck in the middle of the junction and trapped by the cross traffic on Euston Road — so naturally, they’d force their way through the busy pedestrian crossing at the foot of York Way, acting as though they had right of (no pun intended) way!
And years later, working on the nearby Pentonville Road, when I crossed the foot of Caledonian Road (which in its southernmost reaches is one-way), and a sports car tried to swerve north into the junction! I suspect it was only the opposing traffic waiting patiently at the lights that stopped him going any further, otherwise he’d have not only endangered pedestrians (i.e. me), but continued going the wrong way up a one-way street!
But it’s even worse when drivers are not breaking the law: there’s a box junction at the place where New Cavendish Street (which I walk along to and from work) crosses Portland Place (the road which, further south, becomes Regent Street), but only the southern segments of the two lanes of the latter road have pedestrian crossings with lights, and for some reason drivers are allowed to U-turn from the southbound lane into the northbound lane (which are separated by a traffic island), there being an absence of a “no U-turns” sign.
This means traffic moving through each phase of the traffic light pattern — westbound on New Cavendish (it’s one-way), northbound on Portland and southbound on Portland — can go through the signal-free pedestrian crossing in the northwest part of the junction, and thus there’s technically no safe time to cross! But oh, if they stopped to let people cross, they’d get fines for stopping in a yellow box junction, which is far worse than running someone down…
(And don’t even get me started on boy racers, who do it for kicks… does anyone, anywhere, respect them?!)
It’s not just arrogant car drivers I hate, however: the other day, at that exact junction, I refused to get out of a cyclist’s way, as he tried to go through a red light while the pedestrian crossing was showing the green man. I’m sure I have a lot more support here: I have zero respect for cyclists who don’t obey the laws of the road, and act like a red light is their signal to go! No, idiot, you stop like all the other vehicles, and go when the light is green — got that? If you can’t cycle safely on the road, DON’T CYCLE!!!
And yes, that also applies to cyclists who ride on the pavement (“sidewalk” if you’re American) — that’s actually against the law, no excuses, especially if you’re just doing it to go the wrong way down a one-way street (which itself makes no sense if the next street over goes the right way). It always seems to be twentysomething blokes with hipster beards, who nonetheless obey a different law: wearing a helmet while riding a bike. Why, you’d almost think they were more concerned with their own safety than that of pedestrians!
Okay, fine, one time I foolishly tried to cross Tottenham Court Road (also one-way) without looking first, and had a foreign-sounding cyclist call me a “stupid man” for nearly being hit by him, but am I still being punished all these years later, to atone for causing him a minor inconvenience, and possibly wear on his brakes? What about the cyclist who knocked down my old work friend outside King’s Cross, while she was crossing at the correct time, and just got back on his bike and left without even apologising?
Fortunately, nearly every time I see a cyclist breaking the law, I see other cyclists on the road obeying the law (possibly even wearing helmets), and I still remember the time in the early 21st century, when I cycled in Worthing, that I followed a cycle lane onto the pavement and got shouted at by a passenger in a parking car (who couldn’t see the cycle lane due to the parked cars between us)! There are good cyclists, just as there are good drivers (well, my mother and “best mate”, to name two), and a lot of honest, well-behaved drivers are punished these days for violations (parking and moving) that it seems they were tricked into, especially here in Barnet (see, for example, Mr. Mustard’s blog here).
Whatever problems I may have with drivers, I don’t want them ripped off — fines are supposed to change behaviour, not act as a revenue stream, and if a lot of drivers are making the same mistake, surely that indicates there’s an issue with confusing or missing signage that needs to be corrected, not left as it is out of a blatant desire to make money unethically?
However, there’s one group I can’t stand or sympathise with: motorcyclists. Even after escaping from Caledonian Road, where every passing biker’s two-stroke engine would interfere with my digital TV reception, I’ve hated them all — they deliberately tune their engines to be as LOUD as possible, like they’re compensating for something.
(Maybe they should be forced to put noise-cancellers on their bike, which replaces the engine sound with “HEY EVERYONE, I’VE GOT A REALLY SMALL PENIS!”? Or would that be stating the obvious?)
But that’s just a side issue: too many bikers drive like reckless (feckless?) fools, endangering real people out of a desire to thrill themselves and act tough. One time I was crossing Seven Sisters Road near Finsbury Park, on my way to the Castle after a bus journey, at a pedestrian crossing with the green man showing… and one of a group of bikers coming north along the road accelerated and raced through, even though the traffic light was already long since red! What was he trying to prove?!
And the other day, in the western extremes of the aforementioned New Cavendish Street (near my workplace), I saw a biker, with a passenger, driving dangerously: he swerved and came back down the one-way street in order to turn into a side street he’d missed, and I looked down that road to see him then swerving onto the pavement in order to get around some queuing cars! At least he didn’t threaten my safety, like another biker who didn’t even slow down when I was crossing a zebra crossing — aside from breaking the law (driving through a zebra crossing that a pedestrian was using), he endangered someone (i.e. me), and deserves a ban!
Phew, I feel better getting all that off my chest… there’s no real resolution or conclusion to this blog post, it’s just a disorganised series of complaints about road users (and pavement intruders) who really ought to change their ways. But hey, maybe if Peter Dibdin had taught them to drive, they’d be remotely competent?
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P.S. One time when I lived on Caledonian Road, I witnessed two of my hates battle: a London cabbie had knocked down a chavvy cyclist (without a helmet) who had apparently tried to cycle across the zebra crossing right in front of him, and I found myself hoping both sides would be punished for their crimes (the cabbie for not stopping, the cyclist for cycling where pedestrians are king). Sadly, the chav was up and cycling moments later as the cabbie got a talking-to…