Letter from Prague Playing chicken at zebra crossings
Sometimes I walk out in front of moving cars. But not very often, and only at zebra crossings. That’s because, sadly, stepping onto the road – naturally allowing oneself space and time to jump back should the driver be a psycho, not just a jerk – is often the only way of asserting one’s rights as a pedestrian in this city.
I should point out that I’m not what you might call a daredevil. Indeed, I was – through my own negligence – hit by a car at the age of about eight, and have a scar on my forehead to prove it. You are unlikely to meet any adult as look-three-times careful when it comes to crossing the road.
Neither am I some class of pedestrians’ rights campaigner, unwilling to ever wait a second and always striding onto zebra crossings no matter what speed approaching vehicles are moving at, merely because since 2001 Czech law gives pedestrians the right of way at zebra crossings.
Sometimes, though, especially if I’m standing on one of those narrowish tram stop islands after alighting, enough really is enough.
Recently I was trying to get off one such island on Vinohradská St. and could see a young woman in an expensive looking silver jeep advancing towards the zebra crossing there from at least 20 metres, but with no apparent intention of slowing down.
Indeed she just carried on at the same velocity, evidently assuming she could do what she liked as she was the one in control of a couple of tonnes of moving metal. So there was only one thing for it: I stepped onto the black and white lines, forcing her to either come to a sudden halt or take the risk of knocking me down.
She chose the former, gave me a filthy look and no doubt emitted some choice insult only heard by the child in the front seat, who was thrown forward slightly and to whom I offer a heartfelt apology. Sorry kiddo, when you’re old enough to understand these things you’ll realise that your mum is one of those bad people.
Heaven knows taking such action is not my idea of fun, and it invariably leaves me slightly shaken as well as angry. I’m certainly not recommending it to others, either. Waiting is clearly far safer.
Residents will be aware of this already, but if you’re visiting the Czech capital my advice would be to NEVER assume that a driver is going to stop for you at a zebra crossing. Morons at the wheel are, I’m sorry to say, not a rare phenomenon in this part of the world.