My first concrete observation after exiting the plane at Heathrow was that people in London walk very quickly, as if they’re always in a hurry. Our group was passed numerous times on the way out of the airport, and it wasn’t merely because we were all exhausted and lugging our bags. A woman tried to nudge me out of her way, and a little blond girl with a purple and green pastel Tinkerbell suitcase outpaced Seth on the moving sidewalk.
Everyone seems to walk up behind us, impatiently slow down for a few paces and then rush by, as if we’re traveling at a snail’s pace. It’s like they’re all training for a power-walking competition.
After traveling around London for two days — and doing quite a bit of walking — I’ve realized why.
I’ve seen a number of cars nearly strike pedestrians. At the London Center, Bill, Sarah and Ryan told us stories of students and faculty getting hit. I’ve also experienced the fear firsthand, as we’ve sprinted across busy streets with cars speeding at us.
Thus, it seems to me, at least, that London pedestrians are at a disadvantage when it comes to transportation. Perhaps this opinion is a result of my suburban lifestyle and lack of experience in cities, but, frankly, I don’t want to fear for my life every time I want to cross the street.
The one thing working in pedestrians’ favor, however, is the fact that the streets are lined with words and symbols that direct us. While they confuse me in their differences from the American system — why cross the street in the middle of the road? — those striking white lines are what have kept me alive for the last 37 or so hours. Without the large white block letters staring up at me from the ground, telling me I’d better look in a particular direction before stepping into traffic, I’d be in trouble.
“LOOK RIGHT.” “LOOK LEFT.” Kids learn early on that they must look both ways before crossing the street. However, sometimes — in London, in my case — we all need a little help.
With all of the foot traffic, those white stripes and lines take a beating. All day long, they bear the clomping of shoes, the click-clack of heels — and the stomping of five American college students running from bombarding buses and cars.
Those poor white lines. At one time, they were newly painted, contrasting sharply with the black street beneath. The thick, pasty paint looked like vanilla icing on the surface of a pan of brownies. They help us with every step, and we tread on them until their crisp white turns to gray with wear.
We take advantage of them, using them for their assistance, until they wither away. Then, we paint over them without much thought, but only when they're missing do we come to realize how much we need them. The white lines of London may be most famous for bearing the steps of George, Paul, Ringo and John, but I, for one, have come to appreciate the white lines for an entirely other reason.