Peter Preston. the Guardian’s ex-editor and current columnist, decided that Amsterdam was just the place for an early Summer break. Perhaps he took the ‘Time Out’ guide with him. Perhaps like many middle-aged men with car-legs (thin, spindly, pale unmuscled sticks that join the stomach with the ground) he finds it difficult to walk more than fifty yards. In any case, something decided him to hire a bike. Very Eco. One imagines the bike-shop conversation;
“And does all the protective gear come in the price? You don’t have any? No-one uses them here? You can order some in two days? Well OK I’ll take the risk”
And perhaps making a virtue of a necessity, finds there’s a column to be had in cycling about without a fluorescent helmet and Kevlar armour. Preston has travelled the Damascus road and discovered the truth that unprotected cyclists are, on aggregate, safer than protected cyclists. Perhaps when he returns to the UK he’ll also discover what many of us have known for some years – that Zebra crossings are safer than Pelican crossings, that pedestrians are safer on streets without cattle-pen barriers and that when a set of junction traffic lights fails and drivers ‘negotiate’ their moves, the traffic moves more rapidly.
These things may seem trivial, but the Pelican crossing and cattle-pen barrier are most people’s ordinary everyday experience of the State’s intervention in the minutae of our lives. If people learn to obey the red traffic light and the little red man they’ll learn to obey anything. Zebra crossings are dangerously free; motorists and pedestrians negotiate road space directly between them, without the need of State intervention in the form of commanding light signals. And yes, Zebra crossings really are safer.