I know a lot of people think I’m a bit of a nut when I go off on a bendy rail about walking. What has walking to do with culture, they ask? This is meant to be a cultural site, stick to reviews of musicals starring superannuated pop stars and exhibitions of bicycles that have starred in Bollywood movies.
Well, I respond to these critics, all things connect – parking charges to Puccini and pedestrian crossings to the latest season of plays by Alan Bennett.
Take these very traffic lights I spent a few minutes filming this lunchtime – and apologies for the quality, I am no Werner Herzog. These very lights enable the passage over a very busy road from the town centre to the cultural quarter of Leeds for every punter, performer and press officer at a handful of major venues. The West Yorkshire Playhouse, Northern Dance, Phoenix Dance, Yorkshire Dance, Leeds College of Music, The BBC, and the hub of creativity that is Munro House, all are connected to the town by this set of lights. Have a watch …
Do you notice anything odd? Did it make you wonder about the disproportionate time given to motor vehicles (a whole minute) over pedestrians (five or six seconds)? How would you feel about only having six seconds to cross a fiendishly busy road?
The one thing I know about cultural types is that they are a dreamy lot. Taken to wandering about the place in a creative trance. Positively dopey a lot of them. But that’s just how they are and we wouldn’t have any art at all if we banished the dreamers. Which is why I’m a bit worried about this crossing.
It’s a bit Darwinian. And I’m not sure that cultural types have it in them to survive.
I’m not so worried about the dancers. The dancers are alert and nippy and are on the other side of the road before you can say “green man flashing”. But what about the musicians? Imagine having to lug a cello over here in six seconds – or a double bass. Then there’s the actors. Have you ever met an actor who stopped talking (about themselves usually) for a moment? By the time they’ve declaimed the first sentence in a monologue about their triumph as third spear-holder in King Lear the light has been green for four seconds and there’s a people carrier revving its V6 and drowning out the punchline.
And what about playwrights, creative directors, journalists, architects, graphic designers and film-makers? They have better things to think about than how long till the red man turns green. These lights make them break their precious concentration and interrupt the act of creation.
But it’s the poets I fear for most. Dozy, swooning, sighing poets, away in a world of their own. They say the muse can strike at any time. Imagine she struck a poet in rush hour in the middle of the A64 – by the time he’s got the notebook from out of his rucksack and licked his pencil stub he’s contemplating the back axle of a black and white.
So that’s why I’m all for the Living Streets campaign calling for 3 more seconds green man time to protect the most vulnerable road users. Let’s make it easy for everyone to cross the road safely. It is a cultural issue too. Do it for the poets.