As I’m away and unable to play with the Friday Fictioneers this week, I thought I’d practise posting about my adventures in Canada. Thanks to all those who encouraged me to do so in response to my post (https://elmowrites.wordpress.com/2012/03/26/writer-seeks-readers-gsoh-a-must/), I’d love to hear what you think about this first attempt!
One of the big questions people ask when you move away from England is “How do you cope with driving on the wrong side of the road?” And the answer, actually, is that it’s no big deal. At first, I was conscious of which side I drove on, but the street furniture, road-markings and the rest of the traffic are all pretty big clues and I got used to it pretty quickly.
Nevertheless, driving in Toronto has taken a lot of getting used to.
One cause of this is pedestrians. English school children learn the “Green Cross Code” from an early age, we know to stop, look and listen and, although there’s no law against jay-walking, we know that cars are big things that can’t stop on a dime. Even in summer, and certainly not in a Canadian winter with black ice and freezing rain. In most parts of Britain(1), as a driver you can take it for granted that pedestrians will at least give a passing thought to these things when close to a road.
Not so in Toronto.
From school-age, Canadian children learn that all traffic is immobilised by the sight of a stopped school bus. Pedestrian crossings are “push and point” – similar to zebra crossings in the UK, with the addition of a button which instantly lights up the crossing – as soon as a pedestrian steps out onto the road, cars must give way. Pedestrians have right of way in pretty much all circumstances. The result is that Canadian pedestrians are fearless. If the pavement they are walking along is interrupted by a minor road, they consider it an irrelevance – the vast majority keep walking without even pausing or looking up. If they are running up the road and need to cross at a crossing, they will hit the button and sprint straight into the road.
I spend time being a pedestrian and a driver. As a driver, I respect that pedestrians are smaller and weaker and need protections, but as a pedestrian I recognise that cars are bigger and more dangerous, and have less manoeuverability than me. Canadian pedestrians could do with learning this latter lesson.
1. Blackboy Hill in Bristol is not typically British. I used to direct people to my flat by saying “Next, you drive down a steep hill where everyone seems to be out to kill themselves.” My guests always arrived saying “I knew I was going the right way when I got to that hill. People here are Crazy!”