Often it's cyclists who get a bad press at traffic lights, but perhaps another breed of road user deserves a stronger dressing down. I speak of those of us on foot, who think nothing of dashing across the street whenever we think fit. Are we seeing the rise of the guerilla pedestrian?
We pedestrians have always been bad at obeying the rules of the road. We had them drummed into us in childhood, all that looking left and right and waiting before crossing, then once we get older we invariably get more lax in our approach. But what I'm think I'm seeing, from observations at the same pedestrian crossings over several years, is an increasingly brazen disregard for doing as we should, and a steady increase in rushing across whenever the hell we like. We used to wait, but now we don't wait, because we think we're more important than that.
Turn up at a pedestrian crossing when the green man is green and there's no issue. But turn up one second later and guerilla action is afoot. Rather than shrugging and hanging around on the kerb for god-knows-how-long, instead we assume we've still got plenty of time to cross the road and step out anyway. And sometimes we're right, because the crossing in question has been programmed to allow a very slow person to cross very slowly. But at other times the oncoming traffic is immediately upon us, perhaps accelerating on green, and all we're doing is getting in the way.
Like we care. For the guerilla pedestrian traffic lights are for losers, because there's always a gap in the traffic if you run fast enough. We don't like to wait, and what's more we don't have to, because for us the red and green lights are merely advisory. If we want to cross while the red signal's red then we can, even though you on your bikes or you in your cars could be prosecuted if you did the same.
I'm sure we've all crossed the road on red when nothing's coming, because it's pointless hanging around. But what I think's now changing is how keen we are to break ranks when road traffic has right of way, and when we really ought to be keeping out of its path. I see this creeping anarchy every day at a junction near work - a horde of pedestrians buzzing to be on the move - and it's definitely getting worse.
For example, as soon as we spot that traffic lights are turning in our favour, we're out in the road before the last car has passed ready to step into its wake. For example, as the lights change for other traffic but not for us, we're exploiting the brief hiatus between one stream and the next to dash across. And for example, as the countdown timer ticks down, well, if we're a few seconds longer, where's the harm?
Those of us on foot in London have become pretty badly behaved, all told. Forever pushing the envelope, or chancing our arm, for the prize of a few less seconds on our commute. And the more regularly we travel, the more we know the idiosyncrasies of the lights we're crossing, the more likely we are to think we know how best to zip through. The guerilla pedestrian is on the march, or more likely on the run, at a road crossing near you.
It's a wonder we don't kill ourselves more often. But then once is all it takes, and if we've successfully negotiated a path between the traffic a thousand times before, we never imagine that the next reckless crossing might be our last. A car we haven't spotted, a bus travelling faster than we thought, if we choose to encroach on the road when it's not our turn we're putting ourselves at risk.
And we're putting others at risk too. A second breed of pedestrian I've seen a lot lately are human sheep. These sheep don't pay attention to what's going on around them, most likely because they have their head in their phone, so tend to cross the road by instinct along with everyone else. And if everyone else is jumping the gun because they've judged the situation 'safe', there's a very real danger that those following behind without watching might be stepping into danger.
You have to be a bit of an idiot to be a sheep. More interested in Facebook than red lights, more interested in Whatsapp than the truck bearing down on you, your implicit assumption that you have some kind of magic protective aura could end up doing you harm. But in fact it's the guerilla pedestrian who lures you out into the street, because if everyone had behaved and stayed where they were then you'd have stayed put on the pavement too.
We don't have laws on jaywalking in this country, and rightly so. Were we all forced to cross only at places of safety and only when signals were green, getting around would take intolerably long. But we pedestrians need to remember we don't own the road, and those we share it with are generally larger and considerably heavier than ourselves. And we need to remember that we can only push our luck so far, and that the rise of the guerilla pedestrian is ultimately unsustainable.