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Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Zebras are Tory, Pelicans are Labour

A zebra crossing is about as Conservative as a street furniture feature can get. It's extremely economic to build and operate - a couple of light bulbs to go in the orange globes, and a few square metres of white thermoplastic road paint - but this is not its main virtue. It's primarily extremely efficient because it allows pedestrians and motorists to 'negotiate' directly for road space; cars only stop if there's someone actually crossing, and as soon as they're within hopping distance of the opposite kerb, off they go again. It builds social capital as pedestrians acknowledge directly the courtesy of drivers in stopping, by a nod, smile or wave. It encourages self-reliance and requires no external intervention. It is quintessentially Tory.

The Pelican crossing, on the other hand, could have been developed by Stalin. With a complex and expensive system of lights, indicators and cattle barriers to prevent disobedience, the State exercises control over both pedestrians and vehicles - no direct negotiation is permitted. Any disruptive child can press the button in passing and create a queue of vehicles stopped at an empty crossing, or the queue of vehicles can remain halted long after a solitary pedestrian has crossed. Citizens are not trusted to interact with one another; the State intervenes to impose an inefficient and totalitarian control over road space. It encourages dependency and is socially divisive. The Pelican is essentially Labour.

But what's astonishing - and I don't have time this morning to track it down, but it exists on the Transport Department's web site, I promise you - is that statistics prove conclusively that Zebra crossings are safer. They're safer because our wonderfully anarchic citizens often refuse to be controlled by lights and attempt to cross at Pelicans before the State commands them to do so, and they're safer because motorists wrongly assume a green light at Pelicans means no citizen will dare to defy the State and walk into the road, whereas at a Zebra drivers are naturally wary.

So which do our authorities choose at the expense of the other? The Pelican, of course. The more expensive, less efficient and more dangerous option of the two. What did you expect?

We all know that traffic engineers are useless numpties, but I had better hopes of Boris. Instead of changing the timings at Pelican crossings, as he proposes, he could immeasurably improve traffic flows by ripping the horrid things out altogether and replacing them with a judicial sprinkling of Zebras at key points. After the immigrant amnesty nonsense, I do fear our Mayor is starting to go native.


Blue Eyes said...

Mr R I think you and I have had this discussion before, probably even here :-) I agree wholeheartedly. The crossings are a very good example of when the state tries to "help" but in fact makes things worse. Sometimes the state needs to just let go.

Boris seems to be quite switched on in some areas but uber-dufferish in others. For example he wants to slash the police budget and spend the money lending money to start-up businesses. Bizarre.

John Page said...

Elegant post but I don't want Judges involved in siting zebra crossings.

"Judicious" maybe? :)

Jackart said...

Super post.

Exactly the sort of policy the Blogosphere should be looking at...

Have you written to Boris?

Dennis said...

Very interesting what has happened at this town in Holland. "... it shifts the emphasis away from the Government taking the risk, to the driver being responsible for his or her own risk."

Elby the Beserk said...

"Any disruptive child can press the button in passing and create a queue of vehicles stopped at an empty crossing, or the queue of vehicles can remain halted long after a solitary pedestrian has crossed."

Disruptive adults, such as myself, also indulge in this behaviour.

Anonymous said...

Clearly the solution to accidents at Pelicans is to make the light signals mandatory, with fines for those who ignore them (as in Germany, the US, etc), and - a purely British refinement, this - enforcement cameras trained on the pedestrians as well as the motorists.

Depend on it, somewhere in the depths of the Department for [preventing] Transport, someone will be beavering away on such a plan even as we speak.