Woman on a bicycle, part 2

I rode about the West End and the City of London a good deal, and enjoyed the traffic. Once, in Manchester, I was cycling to a Hallé concert at which Joachim was to play, when, in a congested part of Oxford Road, I espied him in a cab, with two of my friends, to whom I waved my hand. In great apprehension, the kind old gentleman cried out, “But she will be killed! She will be killed!” Once I was returning from spending two sleepless nights in a caravan in Surry, and I was so tired and absent-minded that, crossing over from Trafalgar Square, northwards from Charing Cross station, I came into collision with a horse-van coming south down the Haymarket. When I picked myself up, a policeman was already there with his notebook, and he seemed puzzled by the flood of assurance from both the van-man and myself that, “It was entirely my fault; I could not decide whether he (she) was going to cross first.” So he asked me if I were hurt and I said no, and he departed. The van-man and I nearly embraced.

I was much interested in reflecting on what my thoughts had been when I saw the crash was inevitable. The interval of time between my realisation of this and the actual impact seemed long. I thought, “Well, this is an accident. Now I know what it’s like.” Then, “Here goes! Get it over!” I rode on to Kensington with only one useful hand, and on cutting of my left glove, I found a very swollen thumb-joint. I went at once to a surgeon who said he could do nothing with it while it was so swollen. So I kept it in a cold-water bandage for a wee and then, as it was still in a very painful state, I went to aManchester surgeon who remarked, “This ought to have been attended to at once; It’s dislocated.” You never know!

This was the only accident I every had that was due to my own carelessness, and I have felt, ever since, the extreme danger that people incur who drive a car when they have been suffering from insomnia. One is apt to go mooning about. Unfortunately, though one may, and should, refrain from driving a motor when one is not fully up to the mark, it is not possible to refrain from all walking on the roads unless one is in good athletic trim. This is a distinction which people are apt to overlook who are more desirous of “blaming the other fellow” than of finding a remedy for the present nightmare condition of the roads.

As recently as 1920, when motors had been on the roads for a score of years, my mother, then ninety, was accustomed to cross Kensington High Street alone with perfect equanimity. When her friends remonstrated with her, she said, ” I am quite safe. If I can’t get across, I just stand still and hold up my hand. No one runs over an old woman who stands still and holds up her hand.” You could not say that now. I developed a sound “road sense” when bicycling, and I always look both ways before attempting to cross a road, but, if I get half way across one of our terribly crowded arterial roads and, finding I cannot finish crossing, stand still and hold up my hand, the angry motorists, furious at being expected to slow down, hoot as if they wish they could blow me off the road, and I proceed only at my dire peril. Far too many motorists run it so fine that they can be sure of getting through only if everyone is mature, agile and alert. It is not possible for all pedestrians to be so, but no person should be armed with a lethal weapon like a motor-car unless he or she is.

Helena Swanwick I Have Been Young Victor Gollancz 1935

Restraining pedestrians

Pedestrians dodging traffic
Tottenham Court Road, 1927

In the controversy as to whether pedestrians should be restrained from crossing the streets except at certain specified points, it is well to realise that this is, in fact, to decree that those who are too poor to possess or to use motor vehicles must go round about in order that those who are rich enough to drive may drive faster.

We who have to walk to our business may find our time just as precious as those who can afford to drive. We may be infirm and find the extra distances as severe tax upon our strenght. Since our natural pace, which we cannot exceed, is the slowest, any extension of the distance we have to travel is relatively a much greater hardship to us than a roundabout way is to the motorist. He can whirl round Trafalgar Square in a few seconds; we, with tired limbs, must trudge wearily up a street or down a street to the destination exactly opposite us, from which we are debarred by the maniacal whirl of motor traffic. For, note, the crossing places must be far apart, otherwise the motorist will actually be slowed down by their introduction.

Editor’s note: 1538 children under 12 were killed by motor vehicles in the UK between 1919 and 1921. (Source: Hansard) Nellie’s disabled brother Robert was killed by a van in 1923.