Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Pedestrians, let’s battle buggies and bikes to reclaim the streets

Buggies are said to have contributed to 'Pedestrian Aggressiveness Syndrome'

When I was a volunteer at a home for the blind a couple of years back, I became aware for the first time what a jungle it is out there.

I’d always ambled through life, never suffering from agoraphobia, panic-attacks or any of the ills the urban mind is prey to, short-sighted and somewhat blissed out, convinced the streets were not mean at all, but rather concrete canyons of fun where adventure awaited at every avenue.

It helped that I could take taxis everywhere, of course, and that I live in Brighton and that I haven't had to leave my lair to work since I was 19 years old.

Then I started walking my old ladies to the bank, and my eyes were well and truly opened. We're hearing a lot now about how the old are treated as sub-human in care homes and hospitals, but that attitude starts on the street.

Cyclists who considered themselves to be decent human beings because they pounded at pedestrians on two wheels rather than four — ignoring the bicycle lanes found everywhere in right-on Britain — would come at us from one side. While, from the other direction, bore down the legions of yummy mummies with their double buggies side-by-side, boasting about little India and Jasper's latest dismal finger-paintings and how they intended to keep breastfeeding the dreary little brats until they could open cans of Special Brew with their teeth.

You hear so much scaremongering about chavs and hoodies, but, to my mind, the sense of bourgeois entitlement the middle class display out there on the pavements has contributed massively to the decline of public spaces.

There was a survey some years back which claimed that people who supported Green politics were actually slightly nastier and stingier than others in their everyday life — feeling that they had ticked the nice box and had, therefore, somehow won the right to be nasty — and my year of leading the blind made me concur with this. So when I read about pavement rage, I figured that, at long last, those who use the sidewalk to do just that — walk — rather than show off at speed and terrorise others were fighting back.

But no: on the age-old principle of divide and rule, it's merely walkers losing their rag with other walkers. Shrinks at the University of Hawaii have named it Pedestrian Aggressiveness Syndrome (PAS) and identified its symptoms as glaring at fellow peds, getting in their faces, yelling and shoving.

I don't get this myself, but that might be because I'm so old now. One of the best things about hitting 50 is accepting this is about as far as you're going to get and any sort of hurrying starts to look like rushing towards the grave.

Now I make a habit of standing back in queues and ushering people before me to the till; “You decide when, because you've got loads to do and I don't”, I tell my young friends when they want to come and visit.

But even I, in all my laid-back, lard-arsed complacency, would willingly take a pickaxe handle to anything bigger than a tricycle that insists on staying on the pavement.

Over the past few years, both London and Birmingham have mooted ways to make the pavements more pleasant.

In Birmingham, there was an abandoned plan to make pedestrians in the main shopping precinct use different sides of the street to go either way.

Then a group of businessmen in Oxford Street thought up the idea of a pedestrian fast lane, with a minimum three-miles-per-hour speed limit and no eating, map-reading or photo-taking allowed. Speed cameras were even suggested, with on-the-spot fines for loiterers. Nothing came of it; probably because walkers have more in common than they do to divide them.

But is it really not possible to enlarge existing bicycle lanes and have all large-wheeled vehicles — bikes, mobility scooters, double buggies; not wheelchairs or pushchairs — confined to it?

Let us old ladies dawdle on the sunny side of the street, while the boy-racers and yummy mummies fight it out among their neurotic selves.

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