22 September 2006

Mea Culpa

I'd no sooner posted that last piece questioning the moral character and/or the intelligence of bicyclists than I went out and did the sort of blithely oblivious thing which probably helps convince bicyclists that pedestrians and motorists alike are out to get them.

I was crossing Westbourne Park Road, the curvy, more scenic bit that's more residential drive than thoroughfare. I was nowhere near a traffic signal or a zebra crossing (crosswalk, Americans), but of course I didn't need one, because after all, I'm a pedestrian and we can go wherever we want. I waited for one car to pass, saw that the next car was still some way up the street, and casually strolled right into the path of an oncoming bicycle.

The thing was, I could see him coming, could see that he was headed directly toward the point where I was crossing, knew that he unassailably had the right of way, and yet I walked in front of him as though he wasn't there. Or as if he were just another pedestrian, albeit one travelling at about 20 mph. I don't know what, or if I was thinking.

He hit the brakes, I jumped back on the kerb, calling out in the same instant, "Sorry!" in a rather quavery voice. It's the all-purpose English social lubricant; I'll say the same thing if you step on my toe, implying that it was dreadfully clumsy of me to have put it under your foot in the first place. In that light, "Sorry" seemed a little inadequate, given that if I'd been just a bit slower to react or he'd been riding just a wee bit faster, he almost certainly would have skidded out of control on the wet surface and very possibly gone under the wheels of the speeding white Mercedes that had by then overtaken us.

Oh well, no harm done, I suppose, except that one more bicyclist has had his worst suspicions about idiotic pedestrians confirmed. On the other hand, on my way home about an hour later, I was happily strolling along the footpath, nowhere near the street, contemplating whatever once contemplates on a quiet, drizzly London morning, when bang, a speeding bicycle swept up from behind and nearly took my arm off. To the man's credit, he did say something as he passed; it sounded like a grunted amalgam of "Sorry" and "Get out of the way!"

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