If someone urged you to break a law, what would you do? In Ireland, you’re expected to be delighted. Today I learned that if you’re not delighted and compliant, you are punished.
About twenty minutes ago, our dog Adam and I waited for the pedestrian signal at the busy crossing coming out of our local park. A waiting driver hooted. I looked over, and he motioned that I should cross the road – against the red pedestrian light. I shook my head to show I was not going to do that, and at that moment, the pedestrian signal turned green. As we always do since Adam almost got run over by a driver jumping a red light, I even then checked carefully that there were no cars coming before starting to cross the road. I shook my head at the driver before crossing: really, people should not try to intimidate others into breaking the law. So far, not exactly pleasant but not harmful.
Except that the driver was not satisfied with me not obeying his command. As I walked, he started moving his car forward into the double white lines that mark the pedestrian crossing. So much so that I had to veer away so as not to be bumped into. By the time I was on the other side, and looked back, he had moved his car right over the pedestrian lines.
I often wonder if it sounds exaggerated when I say that the situation on Irish (and many other countries’) roads is a classic powerful/power-poor model. Members of the stronger group use bullying behaviour, then blame the victims when they get called on it. This is true for men/women, able-bodied/disabled, white/black. Much can be said about the fascinating and complicated consequences and effects, but in our situation, the bullying, entitled behaviour of driver/non-driver dynamics means people choose not to walk or cycle. It makes perfect sense: why on earth would you willingly choose to join the weaker group?
We ideally need completely segregated cycle infrastructure, but this is at best decades if not a century or more away. In the meantime, even when cycle lanes are available, even when they’re segregated, motorists’ attitude of owning the road and merely tolerating non-drivers is literally and figuratively toxic. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen cars and vans parked even in lanes that are separated by kerbs or poles. If I had to photograph every car that parks on footpaths every day just within, say, a kilometre of my house, it would be a considerable task. If the council were to actually fine these people, they’d have more than enough money to fund the cycle infrastructure development we need to make cycling in Dundalk truly viable, ie. separate from traffic.
But motorists continue to act like gods because they are treated that way. People are often nonplussed or condescending if you don’t just bow your head and drag your bicycle around, or step into the road and walk around their precious car squatting in the cycle lane or on the footpath. In Ireland, “But there is nowhere else to park” is considered a legitimate excuse for ignoring laws. I’m waiting for the day when someone gets stabbed, and the murderer claims they had nowhere else to put their knife, so everyone just kind of looks elsewhere and starts talking about the weather, while the dead body is discreetly pushed out of the way.
This morning’s driver is not the first I’ve encountered who does this thing, of moving their car forward as you cross the road at a pedestrian crossing. It happens a lot. This is the first time, though, that the aggression was so blatant that had I not moved, the car would have physically bumped into me. It’s usually more psychological intimidation than actual possible harm.
I considered taking a photo of the offender, but I was too scared. This was an older white man, and a driver who displayed open aggression to me. The chances were very good that he’d have done something more serious, because pitted against him, I’m not only a woman vs a man, and a pedestrian vs a driver, but also likely an immigrant vs a local. What would the point be, anyway? Drivers are above the law in Ireland, and I’ve given up on trying to act as if they aren’t. I now rather behave in such a way that I stay safe, and make plans to move elsewhere, with my degree and my earning (and tax paying) potential, to a country where I don’t have to be nervous and on guard every time I go out my front door.