Beware stepping off the pavement in London
27.05.2010 - 29.05.2010 15 °C
That's the glory of foreign travel. I can't think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can't read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can't even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.
— Bill Bryson Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe
After living for 10 years in Toronto, I had become a pretty militant pedestrian. I was an unrepentant jay-walker, dodging through the snarled traffic along Yonge Street, smugly grinning at motorists stuck behind a sea of brake lights while I power walked my way to work. At corners, I would cross the street, glaring at any cars that dared to try to inch into my space as I crossed, confident in the fact that pedestrians had right-of-way at corners.
You can imagine my surprise, when first visiting England in 2007, at strolling confidently out into an intersection only to be brushed back by a Nissan Micra taking a corner at Fernando Alsono speeds, his horn blaring and fingers raised as he passed me.
Here in the UK, pedestrians don't have right of way at intersections, unless the lights are all red and the pedestrian signal is activated. That has taken some getting used to, having to crane my neck in all directions when approaching a cross-street to make sure that a granny in a Rover or a white van man doesn't run me down.
On the flip side, the English driver is very respectful of the crosswalk, gladly pulling to a stop and allowing folks to cross. All you have to do, as a pedestrian, is walk up to the crosswalk and stroll right out. The cars stop, like Moses parting a red sea of Mercedes A-classes. In North America, we had cross-walks away from intersections, but frankly I never really put my trust in them. Cars would oftenblindly drive through without giving a second thought to any potential street crossers.
I am inclined to chalk up this difference to the different emphasis that Europeans and North Americans put on their driving experiences. In North America, we like big cars with big engines that go really fast in a straight line. In Europe, they like small cars with great handling and zippy acceleration. Europeans love cornering on the verge of losing control. North Americans love going straight and fast.
Thus, the differences in the treatment of pedestrians. People walking shouldn't dare get in the way of a European taking a corner, nor in the way of a North American with the pedal floored on a straight away. It ruins their ultimate driving experiences.
And if there is one thing motorists won't put up with, it's ruining a really nice drive.