This article will more or less write itself, I had such a great response from club members on the rather surprising topic of traffic lights.
So here goes. Any mistakes you find below are the writers’ own (not that it matters, but people do enjoy pointing it out when I mess up.)
Lorna was the first to email: “I have lived in Glasgow all my life and never knew that crossing diagonally was unique to us!”
Michael added a second diagonal-crossing city: “hey do that diagonal crossing bit in Edinburgh too, my home town. Seems to work.”
Gerry took the time to leave a comment on the article itself, rather than emailing (which is quite rare):
“…noticing how intrigued you were by pedestrians crossing junctions on the diagonal in Glasgow, i thought that you might like to know that such a system has been in operation at Oxford Circus in London for several years now. I don’t know whether the Glasgow situation is formally recognised and set up but the London one certainly is with appropriate pedestrian signals for diagonal crossing and a ‘counting down’ system to encourage running when it is in the last five seconds!”
Jenny contributed this: “Try going to Carmel-on-Sea near San Francisco. There are no traffic lights, so when a motorist arrives at a cross-roads and stops it’s first man to arrive to cross first and so on. Try putting an Italian driver into this mix……?!”
Laurel extended the conversation down into the Southern Hemisphere: “The pedestrian crossing rules apply in the same way here in New Zealand. And the diagonal crossings apply here in Wellington in at least one point.”
Paddy agreed: “It’s not just in Scotland. Here in New Zealand, some busy intersections (but only a few) give all pedestrians the green light at the same time. This is called a ‘Barnes Dance’ system – named after the inventor, Henry Barnes. In Canada, they call it a “scramble intersection”. For pedestrians it’s very convenient. Here, too, a car turning left at an intersection (remember, we drive on the left) gives way to pedestrians crossing at the same time, so one never guns the throttle until one is sure that they are clear.”
Paul too: “As for diagonal crossing – I’m pretty sure this happens in NZ – certainly in Auckland at the bottom of Queen St!”
And back to Europe, Harold added: “It’s not only Italy which has this dangerous system of giving the green light to pedestrians and motorists at the same time – Germany does too. This is disconcerting to visiting drivers, but also to pedestrians. The first couple of times I came across this system, as a pedestrian, I found it physically impossible to force myself to cross the road, knowing that cars also had the right of way across my intended path.”
Annalinda had an (appreciated) correction for me: “However, as one of your many American followers, I would like to point out that “stop signs” are not the same thing as “traffic lights” in the US. The piece of equipment with the changing lights , red, yellow (amber), green is most commonly called a traffic light or traffic signal. A “stop sign” on the other hand is an octagonal sign in red with the word “stop” in white letters.”
Brenda concurred: “A stop sign in America is an octagonal metal sign (usually red and white, occasionally yellow and black) used at crossroads. No matter how long you wait, it never changes to “go”. They are intended for motorists only; pedestrians are left to their own sense of adventure. In urban areas, we have traffic lights that blink red, orange, and green to control the flow of traffic. In busier areas, there might also be a pedestrian light with “Walk” and “Don’t Walk” admonitions.
We can turn “right on red” but we have to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk. As far as I know, left turns on red are always illegal.”
And finally, our ebook author Francesca commented:
“Ciao Daniel, when dealing with traffic and tradition, Napoli is worth a mention. Have you ever been there?
I used to go at least once a year when my grandma lived there. My top five list would be:
1- Parcheggiatori abusivi (people pretending to be parking lot attendant): glarey dudes with shoulderbag and big bellies for the most, who offer you to park your car. You can really trust them, I mean, as long as you pay what you are asked, the car isn’t going to suffer any damage. They are able to have your car parked in extra tiny spaces among dozens of others in any area of the city which they arbitrarily decide needs to be a parking lot. They’ll keep the keys till you’re back. No police officer will bother them nor their customers.
2- People that pretend to be a parcheggiatore abusivo (the fake’s fake!!!) Let’s say you have just parked your car in any place and you’re getting out of it. You are not at an illegal parking lot, it’s just an ordinary street in which you can park (at your own risk, remember you’re in Naples). You’re closing it and suddenly says: “Signore, questo parcheggio è mio”. “What the hell are you talking about?? Via Mazzini is just a public street!” This kind of answer’s not an option. Your car glasses would be broken when you come back to the vehicle. You’d better sigh and give this damned passer-by a couple of euros.
3- Sons of Anarchy. Especially during spring and summer time, families go to the seaside in motorino. And when I say «families» I mean the whole family (mamma, papà + 2 kids) all on the same vehicle. Another typical situation is 3/4 kids (less than 10 years old..?) driving una vecchia Vespa on the pavement. No one in any of these cases would wear the helmet. Moreover, in some quartieri of the city, namely the tough suburbs monitored by the Mafia*, you shall not wear a helmet, that could be dangerous!! They may think you have something to hide…
4- Taxi abusivi. They can literally save your life. Public means of transport don’t really have any time table in Napoli, they pass once in a (loooong) while, so a cab abusivo will work better. They’re cheaper than a normal taxi and the driver will try to dribble the price once at destination, possibly blaming the bad government, he’ll tell you he has to pay the rent, the school tuition for the kids (actually his kids are on the motorbike in point 3), eccetera eccetera…
5- Apecars. These 3-wheeled vehicles are generally driven by an old man (70 years old aprox) who may work at the market or may be some kind of enterpreneur (in the wide sense the word may assume in Naples and nearby). They’re not as quick and nimble as a motorino nor fast or stable as a car. As a result, they slow down the jam but naturally make you smile when they bounce (the asphalt is full of holes) overloaded with plants, vegetables or knick-nacks.
*I wrote Mafia but in Naples the criminal organization is la Camorra.”
And talking of Francesca, next Monday we’ll be publishing another of her easy readers.
It’s called ‘La commediante’ and is a historical tale about a prostitute who decides that acting on stage would be more fulfilling, in the days when women were free to choose the former profession but barred from the latter.
I enjoyed it so I hope you will too!
And that’s it for today. Thanks everyone for lightening my Wednesday-morning workload!
Except for the usual P.S., of course. I forgot on Monday, due to having to write propped up on a bed in my daughter’s student digs, huddled under a duvet as the temperature was close to zero.
Tuesday’s bulletin of ‘easy’ Italian news has it all: student protests in China, the bad weather in Italy, brain surgery, a nine-year-old gaining a college degree, and oh, Bill Gates is the richest man in the world again.
Read/listen to it here (for free.)
And if you subscribe (which is also free), you’ll get three bulletins of ‘easy’ Italian news each week directly in your email inbox.
A venerdì, allora.