Author Topic: seeing red


seeing red
« on: August 31, 2011 »

The author gets Patrick Field to talk about traffic lights:

How you treat a red light, he says, depends on how you're feeling about both yourself and the rest of society. 'I tend to always stop at red lights. And the reason i like doing it is because I can show off that I can still have my feet on the pedals [both of them?] and my arms folded[!], and I'm a very vain old man, but I like doing it because I know I don't have to. It's like an ostentatious show -- you know, I'm making a social contract with you people, I'll follow these stupid rules, but if I do run a red light, I have to be in a hurry. The ones who make me laugh are ... you know, I'm waiting at a red light, and these kids go past, deperate to move, as if their bike will explode if they stop. And then thirty seconds later, fat granddad overtakes them and I'm not even breathing heavy. The people who can't stop at red lights aren't happy -- they don't have the psychological resources to be themselves, so they're infected with this anxiety, this, "I've go to get going." I'm not saying I've stopped at every red light even today, but it's my default, to stop.'

But, I say, there may be too many cyclists out there who have now learned to love cycling in a place where reds are considered optional. The rest of the world would still like us to stop. If possible, for good. Field is dismissive. Why try and fit into a system if that system is already faulty? 'There's an authoritarian optimism -- if we're really obedient, then everyone will treat us well. But when Tesco wanted to smash the Sunday trading laws, what did they do? They opened on Sundays. They challenged the law. If you want to get rid of the law, you break it. So obedience doesn't make people respect you. That's just stupid.' As for the howls of protest from motorists, he reckons they're just looking for an excuse to be angry. 'What pisses motorists off is that they're pissed off already. I've had a bus driver blowing his horn at me because he wanted me to go through a red light so he could go through a red light. The idea that, oh, I would respect cyclists if they stopped at red lights -- people who say that don't respect cyclists. And they're looking for an excuse not to.'

Abiding law isn't high on my list of priorities. There are in fact laws I'm pleased to break on a regular basis, though I hope you'll understand if I don't go into that here. I stop at reds because I'm usually tearing all over the place and it's a chance to catch a breather.

However, I will also admit to stopping because I'd be embarrassed not to. I may not get that ambassadorship which would allow me to break inconvenient laws in another (preferably less windy and rainy) country; nor do I wish to become an ambassador of bad will here. It's very much a social contract thing in that I feel it earns me some respect from motorists, mixed in no doubt with the annoyance that I'm in front of them. Whether or not it really does, doesn't matter. What's important is that following the rules in this case helps give me the confidence to claim my space, and confidence matters.

There's also a nice bit on commuter challenges:

What really bothers many cyclists is not other vehicles, but other cyclists. General traffic begins to fade from main event to mere backdrop. You realise that you have a much more pressing issue to deal with in dropping the guy on the white single-speed and making sure he stays dropped. Or riding down the man who just overtook you on a vastly inferior piece of kit. Or -- most satisfactory, this -- knowing the city better than the person you're racing, taking a nifty shortcut and emerging a few hundred yards ahead of them at a crucial stage in the game. If you get five cyclists lined up in front of the lights, they may not acknowledge each other's existence, they may never make eye contact with anything other than the pavement, but there's a reasonable bet that four out of them will be working out how to annihilate the fifth. And if you can arrive at work having maintained the purity of your trajectory and having been overtaken by nothing but cars, then it will cheer you up for the whole day.