Red Light

Red Light

I wait. Patiently.

The road is empty. The pavement deserted. The pedestrian who pressed the button has disappeared. I wonder what possessed him or her to change the lights when there was no traffic on the road. Irritating fucker. Maybe it was a reflex action without thought or consideration. Only after pressing and seeing the sign saying ‘please wait’ did they realise they didn’t have to. Off they trotted. A few moments later I arrive to face the consequences of their action.

The hill on Plough Road offers a great start to my commute. It enables me to build up an early head of steam and a momentum that can carry me through the first couple of miles of my journey. A good start like that generally means the ride in is a real joy. I fly to work and am nicely set up for the day ahead.

The pedestrian crossing is right at the bottom of that hill on Plough Road. I seethe as I wait. A good day has just become not so good. Not only did it take some effort to stop, but it’s going to be hard work starting up again. It might as well have started to rain.

I wonder if the person who did this to me has any idea of what they have done. I look around to see if someone is hiding around the corner, chuckling to themselves at how they brought that cyclist to a shuddering halt for no good reason. I can’t see anyone. Maybe this is the work of a malevolent town planner who has programmed the lights on deserted crossings to automatically turn red whenever a cyclist appears.

I continue to wait. I must be in a Guinness ad. Tick, tock.

I had tried to do that cool cyclist thing of balancing on my stationary bike without putting my feet on the ground. Only as I began to topple did it occur to me that I had failed to factor in that I am a portly middle-aged man susceptible to the pull of gravity. Falling off your bike is not cool. Thankfully there were no witnesses.

The reason there are no witnesses is that it is 6:05 am. The reason I am waiting at a pedestrian-less pedestrian crossing on Plough Road at 6:05 am is that my wife, bless her cotton socks, set her alarm for 5:45 am. I have no idea why she gets up so early, but because she does, so do I. I am programmed to get up immediately when the alarm goes off, and, as I now shower at work, I am out of bed and on my bike before I know what has happened. Only when waiting at the Plough Road pedestrian crossing does it occur to me that I am very tired and it is very early.

The light is still red.

Time to confess. I have employed a touch of artistic license in this blog. I do stop at 99% of red lights (well, maybe 97%). However if you, dear reader, seriously think I would wait patiently at a pedestrian crossing on a deserted road at 6:05 am you must have me down as one of those law-abiding public school twats that I have spent my whole life pretending I’m not.

There are 24 potential red lights between Elsynge Rd SW18 and Valentine Place SE1. One every 335 metres. For a high-performance cyclist like myself who can take some time to build up a head of steam that’s a problem. Often I’ve only just got going when I have to stop.

Stopping at lights evokes a strange combination of self-righteousness and self-consciousness. Self-righteousness because it proves I am a good person. I’m not one of those idiots who jumps lights. I imagine that I must be receiving admiring looks from those inside the car stopped beside me, who have been obliged to reappraise their previously poor perception of cyclists.

Self-consciousness because I must look like a law-abiding public school twat. Standing obediently in front of a light that has changed colour simply because it has been programmed to do so every few minutes when there’s no-one crossing, or about to cross, the road and while other cyclists casually breeze past makes me feel a real plonker. I wouldn’t feel this way if I was behind the wheel of a car because 1) it is deeply ingrained that under no circumstance does a car jump a red light and 2) I might get nicked. But for some reason, it’s not quite so clearcut when on a bike. If pedestrians can exercise their discretion and ignore red lights at their own crossings, then surely a cyclist (evolutionarily much closer to a pedestrian than a car) can in certain circumstances do the same. I know this way of thinking is wrong and makes me a bad person, but this is why I have been known on occasion to dismount and pretend I’m a pedestrian. It also explains why 3% of the time, I ignore the light.

The one light in particular I disobey is the only one of the twenty-four for cyclists. Its red illuminated shape is even that of a bicycle. This light is the coup de grace of the town planner who hates cyclists. You have to admire his guile. His brilliant concept is ‘Give them their very own light to make them feel important and to make us appear cyclist-friendly, but then fuck with the timing to really mess with them.’ Even our two cycling knights, Sir Chris Hoy and Sir Bradley Wiggins would struggle to get to the other side in the nano-second that the light is green. You could put a gold medal on the other side and tell them both that the winner can claim it providing they got to it before the light turned back red and be confident that neither would come anywhere close. To have any chance of making it even halfway across this bicycle crossing you have to be primed to accelerate from a standing start at the kind of speed even eludes Lewis Hamilton.

Then, and this is where the town planner has excelled himself, next to the cyclist crossing is a pedestrian crossing. The pedestrian crossing is programmed to give sufficient time not only for a little old lady to cross, but also to host an impromptu tea party with her friends in the middle of the road. She would even have time to call them over from their home a few miles away, wait patiently in the middle of the road for them to arrive and then have a good old natter with them over tea and biscuits before the pedestrian light turned red.

There is no logical reason why the bicycle crossing and the pedestrian crossing shouldn’t be on the same timing as they are parallel to each other. The only conceivable explanation is that the town planner is fucking with the cyclist’s head.

And then, once the old lady has packed up her tea set and long since departed, it is the turn of the traffic. When I was younger, we had a good family game (well it seemed good to my simple eight-year-old mind, but, with the benefit of hindsight, I can see it might be somewhat limited) of counting Minis on long car journeys. A six-hour drive to Penzance once produced fifty sightings (a trip that also included long intervals when I was necessarily distracted from the game to fight and argue with my younger siblings). I’m pretty sure I could smash this record of fifty Mini sightings if I played the game while waiting for the lights to change at this crossing.

It’s enough to make me see red.

July 2014

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