The simple act of crossing the road is fraught with danger hereā€¦

I read in a newspaper that 60% of accidents in Zurich between pedestrians and traffic occurred on pedestrian crossings. My first reaction was to cross the road anywhere but on a zebra crossing.

Clearly, like reading that "a pedestrian is injured every hour in our city" and then wondering why he doesn't get annoyed about it, I had misinterpreted the statistics.

It's odd in a country that has thought of every possible eventuality that might befall its citizens, to the point of providing them with special bunkers in case of a nuclear attack, that the simple pedestrian crossing has been overlooked. It isn't that there are not enough, indeed the opposite is true and it is a good proof of the adage "familiarity breeds contempt". There are so many that there are too often simply not seen by drivers. They are also the wrong color; yellow is not as bright and easily seen as white and the yellow paint seems to ware off a little too easily.

Worst of all Swiss pedestrian crossings give out conflicting signals to all concerned. Crossings are sometimes controlled by lights and sometimes not. Best of all, is when both driver and pedestrian get a green light together on a right turn. It's like being invited to witness a traffic accident, wait long enough and you'll see one.

Like votes for women, the rights of pedestrians came late to Switzerland. It was not until the mid-nineties that pedestrians had full right of way on a crossing. You may have noticed this new-found power has gone to the head of some, who fling themselves in the path of oncoming vehicles. They often go into slow motion mode and moonwalk over the road. Worse still they will cross without looking to check that the traffic is indeed slowing down for them. Quite often it doesn't and simply takes a diversionary route around the crossing pedestrian.

Outside my local old people's home they have some real fun. On sunny days the more mischievous old folk stop oncoming cars simply by standing on the sidewalk at a pedestrian crossing. When an obliging driver has pulled to a halt, they smile sweetly and wave the car on, steadfastly refusing to cross the road.


The root of Switzerland's problem is that there is no class system. We British know exactly how to behave as drivers and pedestrians. Drivers, we reason, must be of a higher class as they can afford a car and pedestrians are a lower class as they can't. British pedestrians know their place and are reluctant to stride out in front of their betters, and wait timidly at the curb. Toffs in their horseless-carriages prove their superior breeding by magnanimously pulling to a halt and waving their underlings out across the road before them. The pedestrians show their appreciation by tugging their forelock and trotting snappily over the road so as not to delay their Lordship's important schedule.

In the self-governing super-democracy of Switzerland, where everyone is equal and all can afford a car, even if they choose not to buy one, pedestrian crossings can be ambiguous places of human interaction. Maybe it is best to avoid them after all.