(james benedict brown) on the road


Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 13 September, 2008

Here’s a subtle little urban observation for you. This is a pedestrian crossing on Argyle Street in Glasgow. While I lived on the hip and trendy Avenue du Mont Royal in Montréal in Canada, the city installed coutdown timers on a busy intersection near the Mont Royal metro station. The idea being that there would be fewer pedestrian / vehicle conflicts if crossing pedestrians knew how much longer they had priority. That’s because In North America the countdown ticks away on green, telling you how much longer you have left to cross. But here in Scotland, it ticks down on red, telling you how long you have to wait until you can cross.

What does this say about the Scottish people, as opposed to North Americans? I’ve never seen a countdown crosswalk like this one anywhere else in the UK. As far as I know it’s the only example of its kind in the country. Could this be the one and only example of a countdown pedestrian crossing, and also the one and only example of a misunderstood technology?

In my eyes, it’s the wrong way round, but it suggests an alternative appreciation of the dangers at the crosswalk. It doesn’t warn you that the lights are about to change and that you shouldn’t start to cross… quite the opposite: it placates you by telling you that you don’t have long to wait until the green man reappears.

I noticed a similar tactic during a cross country drive today. The A66 is a major east-west road that crosses from the M6 at Penrith to the A1M at Scotch Corner, linking the two north-south axes of Britain’s motorway network. It, however, is a partially upgraded A-road, and is only partially dualled, with many long sections remaining as regular two lane road. There are a number of four lane dualled sections, where faster traffic can pass slower vehicles (namely caravans, at this time of the year). Naturally, traffic tends to clog on the two lane section, because with only one lane in each direction and precious few passing opportunities, just one slow vehicle can affect the entire flow of traffic.

A few miles in advance of the dualled sections, however, road signs advise you that there is a dual carriageway ahead. What purpose do these signs serve, except to persuade you not to risk a dangerous passing on a two lane road? Patience, they implore, you’ll be able to sweep past this tractor in just a few miles.

Patience, the Scottish crosswalk implores. You can cross in thirty seconds. But like in Montréal, no-one pays any attention. They cross whenever they themselves judge it safe to do so.