You can tell a lot about a city by the way it treats its pedestrians

Sound Off: Mark O’Connell on life as a Dublin pedestrian

You can tell a lot about a city by the way it treats its pedestrians. Dublin seems at best indifferent to its ambulatory underclass, at worst actively hostile. If Ulysses were set in 2018, somewhere between 150 and 200 pages would just be the two main guys standing around at pedestrian crossings waiting for the green man to make an appearance, grumbling about the ineluctable modality of the traffic. Getting to my local Centra or ATM, for instance, involves crossing a fairly busy street, and my back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest I spend roughly the equivalent of six working weeks per year waiting to cross it.

The lag time between pressing the button that signals your intention to walk across the street and actually getting to do so is fantastically, mind-bogglingly expansive. I sometimes wonder whether it would be worth my while incorporating some kind of meditative practice into the waiting time.

Green man

But here’s the thing: it’s an unwise pedestrian who takes his eyes off the ball at a Dublin crossing, because no sooner does the green man show up than you’re getting hustled out of the way by his officious amber colleague and your chance to cross has dwindled to naught. I am a relatively sprightly man in his 30s – I have no idea how old people, or people with mobility difficulties, manage to negotiate this pedestrian dystopia.

And this isn’t just a quirk of my local pedestrian crossing. It’s a widespread phenomenon anywhere outside of the city centre – where, by the way, crossings are often so crowded that you’re in danger of being forced into the street. Someone should inform the powers that be, whoever they are, about these things other cities have called zebra crossings. But then again, giving pedestrians right of way might encourage exactly the kind of antisocial non-car-based activity they seem intent on wiping out.


Mark O'Connell has been shortlisted for the 2018 Wellcome Book Prize for his book To Be a Machine

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