Friday, October 10, 2008

Bratislava Needs an Elephant

(but not just any elephant)

 id=Growing up where and when I did, I was educated about the rules of the road by no less than a dove-grey elephant in a red bow tie and orange hat better suited for a harlequin. No matter that he looked a little goofy - because he did - I was able to learn to look both ways before I crossed the street, to keep away from parked cars, and a few other safety nuggets to take along a road fraught with asshole car drivers (ACDs).

Introduced more than 60 years ago (*ahem* ... well before my time) in Southern Ontario, Elmer and his message of road safety helped to lower the incidence of traffic accidents involving children by 44% and his message has now been expanded to include internet safety and bullying programmes. O mores, o tempores.

Bratislava needs Elmer. Badly. The pachyderm's time has come.

Without exaggeration I can say that Pán Kocúr and I face death from an oncoming ACD pretty much every day of the week and often several times a day and that 100% of these near-
vehicular manslaughters transpire at crosswalks.

Can you hear Elmer weeping? I can.

The fact is, Bratislavan ACDs do not stop at crosswalks. Not only do they not stop, but in most cases, they do not even slow down. Not only do they not slow down, in most cases, they accelerate. And in pretty much every case, these drivers will lean on their horns if they find themselves approaching a crosswalk and having to deal with a pedestrian misfortunate discourteous enough to be in the middle of that
crossing and impeding their progress. Poor driver!

Last week, I brought up my latest
near-vehicular manslaughter incident in class - in a class of professional 20 & 30-somethings who work in the IT industry. My harrowing tale of almost certain death entertained them at best; at worst, it angered them. Angered them how, you ask? Did they commiserate with my plight? Shed hot tears at the thought of losing their teacher? Hang their heads in shame at their ignoble compatriot ACD? Dear reader, they did not.

What gives you the right to walk into a crosswalk when you see a car?


What gives you the right to walk into a crosswalk when you see a car?

I'm a pedestrian?


I think the law gives me the right.

No it doesn't.

Yes, it does.

No it doesn't.

And thus it continued. I tried to explain that crosswalks are intended to provide safe conduct for pedestrians - that not only should cars yield to me when I am already in the street but that they should stop and give me right of way when they see me waiting o-so-patiently on the curb.

On the curb?

The class dissolves into a tsunami of laughter. On the curb?

So what's the point of a crosswalk then? How do you use it?

You stand there until you can't see any cars at the end of the street and then you cross. Fast.

Well, there is some truth in that: the pedestrians I've seen taking their lives in their hands crossing at crosswalks do tend to beetle across pretty quickly. I guess there's no telling where and when a car may appear.
God, it's no wonder no one rides a bike here - this in a city where screeching ambulances outnumber pizza delivery cars.

A couple of years ago, I predicted that I would earn an
early death at the hands of one of Morocco's myriad of ACDs but I've since revised my forecast. Clearly, if I manag id=e to leave Slovakia in anything but a body bag, I can count myself fortunate. Until then, I'll just keep repeating Elmer's little mantra in my head whenever I hit the mean streets of Bratislava:

Look both ways
Before you cross the street.
Use your eyes, use your ears
before you use your feet.

... or better yet, just stay indoors.

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