Posts Tagged ‘Road safety’

South Kensington: a land of contrasts

March 19, 2012

This post is about a few things I see on my bicycle ride into town. No, no – wait! Come back! It won’t be that dull! Or at least I’ll do my best to make sure it isn’t.

Firstly, I would like to introduce you to a prime candidate for Trades Descriptions: Invisible Menders of Knightsbridge.

For a start, it’s in South Kensington, not Knightsbridge. And, as you may have noticed from the orange and brown frontage, the shop is not invisible. I mean, honestly – how could they have got away with this for so long? It’s a complete misnomer on every conceivable level.

In another sense, though, Invisible Menders is invisible, because after stopping hundreds of times at the traffic lights on the junction of Old Brompton Street and Gloucester Road, I have yet to see anyone startled by the façade or the yellowing signs with their jaunty, cursive typeface. It just sits there, unremarked-upon, a wonderful incongruity that must be around half-a-century old.

By contrast, just a few pedal-strokes away, Exhibition Road has begun making quite an exhibition of itself.

Look! No curbs! No tarmac! And no-one travelling at more than 20mph! Personally, I like the grand social statement it’s making: humans, regardless of whether they walk, cycle or use a motor vehicle, can all share the same space safely. And the chap on the left is so comfortable with these new surroundings he has squatted down to fondle his companion’s leg. An extraordinary scene, I’m sure you’ll agree.

The road planners of Kensington and Chelsea have also pedestrianised the junction of Old Brompton Road and Pelham Street, which is right outside the entrance to South Kensington station.

What you can see in that photo is a cab driver taking care not to hit two pedestrians. What you can’t see, because it happened about a minute before I took the picture, is me turning left into the junction with a big grin on my face because I no longer have to shout “WAKE UP” at someone walking blithely into my path without looking right. I’m not a psychologist, so I don’t know why removing a curb makes people more aware that they are stepping into traffic, but in my experience, it works.

So there you have it: one inconspicuous old novelty, and two conspicuous new ones. And I take hope from what the former could say about the latter: if you fulfill a purpose quietly, invisibly, then you’ll be around in 50 years, too.

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Today’s Times is pretty amazing

February 2, 2012

Now here’s something: a national newspaper launching a campaign to improve the safety of cycling in Britain’s towns and cities.

This is the Times’ front page:

Here are pages eight and nine:

And this is the leader on page two:

“Cities Fit For Cycling” was prompted by a road accident three months ago which has left 27-year-old cyclist and Times reporter Mary Bowers in a coma.

I’m quite impressed by what’s in today’s paper. They’ve taken a simple truth – as the popularity of cycling has increased, so too has the number of accidents – and presented a thoughtful, passionate argument without verging into an anti-car polemic. It’s going to be interesting to see what kind of impact this will have.

They’ve also liberated some of the articles from the paywall, so have a gander here and here.

A happy scene you seldom see

November 23, 2011

“Hello there! Would you mind awfully just winding down your window for a moment?”
“Certainly! What seems to be the problem?”
“Well, you drove just a teeny-tiny bit to close to me there.”
“Ah. Yes. Now you mention it, I think I probably did.”
“And as we’re now both waiting here at the traffic lights, I thought I’d mention it while I had the opportunity.”
“Yes. Good idea.”
“Just to avoid it happening again. Because it’s quite scary when a ton of metal looks like it’s going to knock you down.”
“I can totally see your point, sir. My apologies. I’ll try to be more considerate next time.”
“Thanks.”
“But I must say, this situation is most unusual.”
“Really? In what way?”
“Well, it’s just so… civil. Cyclists tend to get very angry about getting cut up.”
“Ah, yes. Well, you see, I was going to lose my temper. But then I read something about moments like this. Apparently I’m supposed to show love. ‘Smile in the face of thoughtlessness,’ it said. ‘Explain the terror of being cut up. Tell them you are scared.’ I had my doubts, I must admit, but it seems to have worked on this occasion.”
“Hmmm. Yes…”
“Oh dear. Was that a little patronising?”
“Oh no no no. Not at all. Well, maybe a little. But that’s not what perturbs me. It’s this conversation. It should be angry, fractious, unreasonable, neither of us giving any quarter. It’s not real enough. In fact, I would go as far to say that it’s not even happening.”
“No! I will not have it, sir – I simply will not have it! Look, if what you’re saying is true, then this entire situation has been fabricated. But look at that red light! Any minute now it will turn green, and that will prove we’re actually here.”

(They look. They wait for a considerable time. The traffic lights remain red.)

“Oh well. Looks like you were right.”
“Sorry, old boy. If it’s any consolation, it seems that both of us are merely providing a cipher for the author’s thought process.”
“It would seem so, yes. I am not the autonomous being that I thought I was. I may as well just give up now. Which is a shame, because I had so much I wanted to say.”
“Well, why not say it? You’ve got nothing to lose.”
“You say that, but that’s not quite true. Because I met the guy who wrote that blog post…
You met him?”
“Yes, I met him. Because we’ve already established I’m the author, not a creation in a fictive contrivance.”
“Ah yes. I see what you mean.”
“So I don’t want to cause offence. He had a nice little dog and he seemed like a nice chap.”
“But you disagree fundamentally with his reasoning on this occasion.”
“Yes! Completely!”
“Because he characterises the relationship between drivers and cyclists as essentially confrontational, whereas you believe it isn’t.”
“Exactly. I mean, it can be confrontational, but only on the relatively few occasions when things go wrong. But the vast majority of drivers let us get on with it. They like us – or they tolerate us – but they don’t hate us, and I generally don’t hate them. It’s a false opposition. And isn’t the tone of his reasoning is a bit vain? Look at me! I’m mastering my anger – and you should too! We can have a better society, but only if you’re all a little like me!”
“So what’s the solution? More angriness?”
“No. Not more anger, or showing more love. Just more, I don’t know, practicality. Boring things, like joining the CTC or the London Cycling Campaign, writing to your local council asking them to improve conditions for cyclists, maybe telling your MP you want to see stiffer sentencing for bad drivers. Stuff like that.”
“I think you’ve made your point quite eloquently.”
“Thank you.”
“But the bad news is that in doing so, we have now served our purpose.”
“Oh.”
“So I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we expired right this very second.”
“I think you may be right.”

(Predictably, they vanish.)