Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Get out of my way!

It's funny how traveling on wheels, especially motorised wheels, gives one the illusion of owning the road ahead. It must be something hard wired into our psyches for reasons that made sense in earlier stages of human evolution. But today it seems to provoke aggression and violence, even in the most unlikely circumstances.

The latest local incident involves a mobility scooter driven by an elderly woman running over a 5 year old child in a shopping centre. Having uttered the immortal words "get out of my way", she proceeded to knock the child to the ground, run over his legs and then drag him along the ground several metres before again running over his legs and making her escape. Not a word of apology, just hit and run.

When the sort of behaviour normally associated with menopausal 4x4 drivers manifests itself in a pensioner on a mobility scooter it makes you think. The mother of the victim thought and she suggested that mobility scooters should have some sort of bar at the front which would stop the vehicle if it made contact with anything. Not a bad idea you too might think, especially with drivers who might, let's face it, conk out at any moment.

But why only for mobility scooters? Wouldn't such a device make sense on all motorised vehicles, just as a prominent emergency stop button is a standard feature of any other piece of dangerous machinery? After all road vehicles are vastly more dangerous than mobility scooters.

It would certainly shift the balance of power away from those in such vehicles towards those who are most vulnerable, pedestrians and cyclists, which is exactly what is required if we are to counter the "get out of my way" mentality.


David Hembrow said...

I view this as yet another of those problems caused by lumping in different users with different requirements in the same place.

Over here, mobility scooters and such like are legally classed as bikes and they get to use the cycle paths. I think that's a better place for them than mixed with pedestrians:


It also provides a safe place for disabled people on tricycles or other modified cycles:


Cyclists are not the only people who can benefit from the advantages of a good network of segregated cycle paths.

Chris Hutt said...

It seems to me a counsel of despair to say that different types of road user should always be segregated.

It is rarely possible to segregate without disadvantaging some user groups, which tends in practice to mean cyclists and pedestrians. In urban areas already complex junctions become ludicrously convoluted if attempts are made to segregate all classes of road users.

It could also be argued that segregation instills the expectation of one group having priority over another, which could be the root of the "get out of MY way" attitude.

To take the common example of pedestrian/vehicle segregation with footways/carriageways, it is the carriageway user who takes precedence by default wherever pedestrian/vehicle movements conflict, often in defiance of the Highway Code and the law.

For example a pedestrian exerting his right to precedence when crossing a side road junction will often be deliberately harassed by motorists who consider the "way" to be theirs by default.

If urban streets were generally unsegregated, with traffic speeds limited to a safe level, the "get out of my way" culture would have little existential basis.

David Hembrow said...

I can see your point, and I've certainly experienced just that as a pedestrian in the UK. However, it's different here. We have far more segregation and also far less conflict on the streets.

Junction design makes it very clear where the priority lies. e.g. here and here in the city and here in the countryside.

Every pedestrian here expects to be able to cross a side road any time they like, just as every cyclist does. Many people don't even look over their shoulders as they cross side roads. They know that drivers or cyclists entering the side road will give way and British visitors who hesitate at the corners cause irritation to Dutch drivers by standing still and refusing to move out in front of them.

Not everywhere here is segregated of course. How successful it is without segregation seems to depend on the level of traffic. Virtually all residential roads are not segregated, and they work fine. This sort of planning goes back a long way. Our home was built in 1972 and doesn't have a separate pavement outside, let alone a cycle path. We walk and cycle on the road. Kids also play on the road. This works well. It's not a through road. At the end of our road, the slightly more busy through road does have a pavement, but still not a cycle path. Both these roads are 30 km/h, of course.

Busy town centres are not so great without segregation and that's where the complaints from cycle campaigners about Shared Space arise. They complain because this sharing encourages an attitude of "get out of my way" amongst driver which is otherwise rarely experienced in this country. This was the subject of an article in the Fietsersbond newsletter a few months back, and I've seen other references to the problem elsewhere.

Happily, after an initial bit of over excitement about the new idea, it looks very much like these ideas are being rationalized a bit. Larger new developments appear to be making the priorities more obvious once again.

Pavements were originally introduced specifically to give pedestrians a refuge from Mr Toad with his "get out of my way" attitude. Unfortunately, he's still with us.