If you drive a car or ride a bike, you'll be aware that us pedestrians are less well behaved than we used to be. Especially at pelicancrossings. We used to be much better at doing as we were told. When the green man was lit, we crossed. When the green man starting flashing, we hurried up. And when the red man appeared we waited, patiently, for all the traffic to go by. Not any more.
Pedestrians are now far worse at observing red lights than certain cyclists. Is the red man showing? Never mind, just dash across the road anyway. Is there a bit of a gap in the approaching traffic? Plenty of time to run headlong in front of a speeding car before it arrives. Or are the passing vehicles driving very slowly down the street instead? Even better for weaving through the jam in a madcap attempt to reach the pavement opposite. Oh no, we pedestrians don't like to wait at pelican crossings any more, we don't like waiting at all.
But some of the blame for this increasingly reckless behaviour must rest with the bureaucrats who appear to be reprogramming our pedestrian crossings. First they stopped our green men flashing. You had noticed that green men never flash any more, hadn't you? The flash was being misunderstood to mean "it's perfectly safe to start crossing", which was obviously extremely risky and had to be stopped. So now there's just a long blank pause between green and red, in the hope that if pedestrians don't see green they'll stay on the pavement. Fat chance.
And now, at least in certain spots in central London, the amount of "green man" time has been cut to a ridiculous minimum. If there's any risk that a hobbling grandmother might not quite get across the road before the traffic restarts, then the green light must be turned off. Law-abiding able-bodied pedestrians are expected to stand and wait, and wait, and wait, when they could easily have crossed the road in the time available before the red man lit up.
Here's how it works at the pedestrian crossing on Regent Street to the north of Oxford Circus...
Erm, the traffic stopped ten seconds ago. Why aren't we allowed to start crossing yet? We can all see that it's perfectly safe to cross already, but for some reason you won't let us yet. Oh come on, we're going to step out into the road anyway. Why wait?
Hurrah! Chaaa-arge! Let's all swarm across the road towards H&M...
Bloody hell, was that it? It takes a good 15 seconds to walk across this road, but they've switched off the green man after just ten. It's inhuman. Surely it's a mistake. Oh come on, we're going to step out into the road anyway. Why wait?
Erm, why is the red man showing already? The traffic on this side of the street isn't moving yet. There'd be no danger whatsoever in crossing to the central island. Why are we being treated like idiots? Oh come on, we're going to step out into the road anyway. Why wait?
Oops, the traffic's finally starting up again. If we don't hurry we're going to get stuck on the wrong side of the road for ages. Well, 30 seconds anyway. Oh come on, we're going to step out into the road anyway. Why wait?
Damn, the traffic's flowing past again. But we could definitely sneak between that lorry and that bus, couldn't we? Or nip between that motorbike and that taxi? If we run very fast. Oh come on, we're going to step out into the road anyway. Why wait?
Ooh good, the traffic's stopping. In a few seconds time the green man will light up. A few seconds early won't hurt, will it? Oh come on, we're going to step out into the road anyway. Why wait?
So, that's the green man lit for a measly 10% of the time, even though pedestrians think it's perfectly safe to cross for nearly three quarters of the time. It's no wonder that pedestrians learn to ignore pelican crossings, because they're set to be so risk-averse that we might as well cross anyway. So we do. Sorry. Can't wait any more. Just can't wait.