Monday, 13 October 2014

Respect the pedestrian? Not if Poland's parliament can help it.

One of those great, nation-defining things about Britain is the institution of the zebra crossing. Loiter around one and instantly traffic comes to a halt, allowing you the pedestrian to proceed unafraid of being hurt. As both driver and pedestrian, treating zebra crossings (with their attendant Belisha beacons and zig-zag road markings) as sacred is part of what makes Britain a wonderfully civilised country. It is also one reason why road deaths per million citizens are three times lower than in Poland.

But when deputies from the ruling PO (Civic Platform) party last year put forth the proposition that UK-style rules apply for pedestrian crossings, uproar ensued among their motor-mad fellow parliamentarians, who continue to block any changes to the highway code that would give pedestrians greater security. It's worth noting that last year, 248 Poles were killed on zebra crossings. In the UK? Eight. Yes, eight pedestrians killed on a zebra crossing, according to Department of Transport statistics. If you include all forms of road crossings in the UK, the number of pedestrians killed rises to 47. Five times fewer than on Polish zebra crossings alone.

This makes me really angry. My fellow Poles - let's stop slaughtering one another using cars as lethal weapons. Pedestrians and cyclists are vulnerable; let them live.

In today's Metro newspaper, the lead story on the front page names the parliamentarians who insist that the current law - which states that a pedestrian may only step onto a zebra crossing when they judge that given the speed and distance of an approaching vehicle, it is safe to do so.

It is worth bearing in mind that the bulk of Polish highway regulations date back to communist days, when Party members, chauffeur-driven in their black Volgas, were kings of the road and the underlings walked, cycled or put-putted around in funny little two-stroke engined cars or motorbikes. There was a regulation making it an offence, punishable with a fine, for a pedestrian to slow down while crossing a road in front of a car. How dare the plebeians get in the way of Party business!

Times have changed, but among some Polish parliamentarians the mindset is the same. "We are the rulers - we have black SUVs with darkened windows - you are the plebs, walking to the bus stop." They dare not say this - but this is what they are thinking.

Enough already! Dość już! Pedestrians in Poland should be treated with exactly the same respect by Polish law and Polish drivers as they are treated in the UK. As sacred beings with a divine right to walk as they will across properly signed and illuminated zebra crossings.

Things are getting better in Poland, though slowly. Looking at September's road accident stats, the number of Poles killed on the road fell by 14.5% (from 317 to 271) compared to the same month last year, the number of accidents fell by 11.5% (from 3,525 to 3.121) compared to the same month last year. That's progress - but it should be much faster. Road deaths are completely unnecessary and entirely preventable.

If you wish to keep an eye open for road traffic accident stats for Poland, the Polish police is very good at keeping the score - on a daily basis. Check out Today, we learn - on the home page - that yesterday's tally was eight deaths in 73 accidents. That's eight human lives lost for good. One day. Tragic.

This time two years ago:
Autumnal gorgeousness in Warsaw

This time three years ago:
The genius of Donald Tusk

This time four years ago:
Tragic road accident kills 18: Has Poland learnt anything from it?


AndrzejK said...

Having been brought up with Belisha beacons I make it a point to stop at zebra crossings in Poland whenever it is safe to do so. Of course one gets abused by the typically trophy wives driving their BMW and Porche SUV's for daring to stop for a pedestrian. And of course if I do stop on the 3 laned Czerniakowska you can guarantee that some pea brained lunatic will change lanes and try to mow down the pedestrian. Whilst we are on the subject how about box junctions. The cameras on the junction of Sobieskiego and Sikorskiego have been effective in stopping the junction getting clogged, presumably yellow paint is cheaper than cameras and should immediately be applied liberally.
Last but not least I had a discussion with a traffic cop attending an accident on the pedestrian crossing outside McDonalds on Wiertnicza who explained that HG-W's minions were unwilling to spend the money to move the traffic lights back by 100 metres such that both pedestrian crossings are traffic light controlled. Drivers are in such a hurry to get to the red lights that they regularly threaten the lives of pedestrians on the first crossing.
Actually whilst I am at it maybe we should start a campaign to list ALL the idiotic hazards created by incompetent and unthinking so called traffic engineers.
And praise where it is due, the traffic light sequence on the three major Jerozolimskie roundabouts are worki a treat allowing traffic turning left to clear the roundabout! See HG-W all it needs is a bit of lateral thinking!

Bob said...

Michal - many of your writings, this one in particular, should also be addressed in Polish to the local mass media and Polish language blog spaces.

The main people who should 'get this' are Poles - if they can get their heads around it.