I have a very wise friend who always waits at red lights. Even on foot, he'll stand patiently until he sees the green man flash, whether there is a gap in the traffic or not. When I am walking with him I hop foot to foot in impatience, used to darting out at the smallest opportunity, seizing my chances without waiting for authorisation. I asked him about it today, waiting sulkily like a small child for the light, and he said "I like choosing to be calm", and pointed to the stressed faces of those dodging the cars to get across. And I realised that waiting until the light is quite a powerful thing to do.
I have no great ideological objection to cyclists running red lights. I know this divides people, but my policy has always been that if there is nothing coming and (importantly) you are not going to scare or squash a pedestrian, go for it. I have run many, many red lights in my time. I hold my hands up. If you've been an infuriated motorist watching Trusty's back disappear and seething at our lack of respect for the road rules, well, I'm sorry. But only a bit.
However. My friend's words really resonated with some things I've been thinking about. Like many people, one of my favourite psalms is Psalm 23, 'The Lord is my Shepherd'. It speaks of having a relationship with God which is unhurried, led in rhythm "beside still waters", with time for rest "in green pastures". Perhaps waiting at a red light is about claiming back some rhythm at a micro level, taking just a few seconds to breathe, to look at the people we share the road with and this great sideshow of a city. After all, I'm not sure if the time I save breaking the rules adds up to anything significant . Aren't I just buying into a ridiculous culture of false rushedness, letting myself be a slave to the tyranny of the clock, living like I'm driven because that is what we do in London?
I also think that waiting at the light is probably a good guard against becoming a obnoxious road user. Although we all like to retreat into tribalism, deep down we know that these come on both two wheels and four. And these fellow road users (yes, on bikes as well in BMWs and buses) all have one thing in common; they think they are King of the Road. They refuse to wait their turn, to share nicely, to allow for the rhythm of the city. Whether it is running down pedestrians at their crossings or cutting up cyclists, t**ty road behaviour comes down to an innate selfishness. And I know there are days when I am so caught up in my destination, my deadline, myself, that I probably come close to behaving like that. And for that, I am sorry.
So tomorrow (at least) I'm going to try and respect the red. I can't promise to be perfect, but I'm going to give it a go. Because I have a hunch that it is the small stuff that makes a difference.
Image by TAB2003