Crossings in Aberdeen

(a rapid ethnographic exercise)

In Aberdeen pedestrian crossings are organized in such a way that car and pedestrian are not taken as a same flow of “traffic” but two different ones. I say so because of instead of adjusting the rhythms of cars and pedestrians that go on the same direction, all road traffic is stopped and then green lights turn on for the four crosswalks. This is different from what I’ve experienced in any other European city and leads to many peculiar situations. I’ll look more closely at them but to catch your attention I’d tell you now that, according to my own in situ ‘measurements’ in a city centre’s crossing (Union St. with Market St.) , people wait in each crosswalk an average of 40 seconds in each crossing. This means that if it takes you 20 minutes to walk all along Union St. approximately 4 of them you spend seeing cars pass. Observing them for a while on this particular crossing you can see people show a lot of themselves in this 40 seconds.

Every time pedestrian green lights turned on, 1 or 2 persons out of 15 crossed in diagonal. As the lights only leave you 7 seconds to cross, this means you find yourself in the mid of the crossing  when they turn off but you still have some more seconds until lights go green for cars in one of the directions. As you’re in the middle you don’t know exactly ones so people do this diagonal crossing quite quickly. But for a moment you are in a no-one’s space time. Before and after green lights is also another space-time ambiguity for pedestrians that keep in the delimited crosswalks. People normally start to cross 5 seconds before and 12 after. And even outside this range but sometimes they have to come back as they see a car coming to them. This coming back is normally accompanied of an embarrassed smile and even has started some conversations among strangers waiters. The faulted risky crosser has lost for a moment what Manuel Delgado (2014) would call his “right to indifference” from the others still anonymous pedestrians that didn’t took the risk to cross.

People, couples or groups walk on the street by their own, not accounting for other walkers more than they account for other things they found on their way. Crossings, making us stop our very own rhythm, can open up some very interesting reflections of space, time and movement relations in the city. You can see people relaying in the person who crossed before to take their own risk, and walk off the delimited path walk broadening its boundaries even when fences try to avoid it. You can see them lean impatiently on the edge off the sidewalk or patiently push the unconvincing “green light” button and lay their bags on the ground for taking a look at their phones.

Delgado, M. 2014. ‘El derecho a la indiferencia’ on El cor de les aparences ( Accessible on: [12 October 2015]

The image is from the Crossing in Aberdeen, captured from Google Street view

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