Waitin’ for My (Green) Man

Over at Copenhagen Cycle Chic, a website that plumbs the probing question — just how good can Danish people look on a bike? — there’s a nice little photo series under the heading “Things to Do at Traffic Lights in Copenhagen.” One answer, as in the photo to the right, is to simply “pause for thought.” (and look tres chic while doing so).

As readers of the book will know, the question of Danes waiting at the lights is of great interest to me. Sitting in warm cafes, looking out the window at crosswalks, I came to find an almost poetic stillness to their modal repose, these pauses of breath, as if the traffic lights were bits of punctuation in the midst of a long stream of urban thought. Like Cycle Chic, I found these activities and poses interesting in their own right, the way even the infrastructure was casually deployed, as in the photo below, in the momentary rest.

The other enduring topic of fascination is that scrupulous compliance at the lights, by all modes — but most noteworthy, in my mind, with the pedestrians. I watched this chap below sit at a empty intersection on a cold winter’s morning, one that I would have dashed across as no cars were coming (given the cold I may have dashed across with cars coming); but for him, it just seemed a good moment to stop and reflect on something (he could, of course, have just been thinking, “when will this damn light change,” but I somehow doubted it).

After a day or so in Copenhagen, I quickly found my own normal behavior adjusting. I too became one of those hardy, stalwart Danes, waiting patiently at the light. When I did notice jaywalking, it suddenly seemed somehow inappropriate, and when someone, as the person did below, trundled across in full view of the red man, I could sense a collective unease from the other pedestrians. Typically this seemed to reveal the offender as a tourist. Or maybe they would just regard the jaywalker with a touch of concern, the way it was anecdotally told to me by a queuing theorist: One day, a line of cars sat waiting for a ferry in Denmark. Someone came driving up alongside the queue, in the shoulder, essentially cutting in front of everyone else. The typical response from the waiting drivers: Oh, something terrible must have happened to that person to make them act that way.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 19th, 2008 at 4:02 pm and is filed under Cities, Cyclists, Traffic Culture, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

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May 19, 2009
University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies
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Royal Automobile Club
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Attitudes: Iniciativa Social de Audi
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Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
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January 30, 2013
University of Minnesota City Engineers Association Meeting
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Metropolis and Mobile Life
School of Architecture, University of Toronto

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Australian Road Summit
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New York State Association of
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Grand Rapids MI



August 2008

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