Wednesday, 31 August 2011

In praise of crosswalks

This opinion may make me unpopular in some circles (certainly with my parents-in-law), but one of my favourite examples of what works in Fremantle is the crosswalks on Cantonment Street.

These humble white stripes to me are a kind of marker to the entrance of the Fremantle city centre, both physically and philosophically.  Outside this boundary, cars rule the road and strolling the streets is not encouraged.  Approach Cantonment Street, however, and the crosswalks send a clear message – here, a different state of mind is demanded of visitors.  Suddenly, you’re in a place where it’s pedestrians, not motorists, who are given priority.  It’s a nice place for a wander and a browse in shop windows, or a coffee at an alfresco table.  Families and children can feel just that little bit safer knowing they’re not walking next to four lanes of traffic roaring past at 60 km/hr.

One of my favourite sights at the crosswalk is watching the courtesy, the small but significant moment of connection, that occurs between motorists and pedestrians.  Watch for a few minutes the behaviour of people crossing the road.  As a car approaches and stops, most pedestrians will give a slight nod and a smile of thanks, or a wave, or even a thumbs-up sign, and often receive a friendly nod in return.  Where else in Perth can you find this, I wonder, when so often motorists and pedestrians and cyclists are opposing parties in an ongoing struggle for ownership of the streets?

This friendliness often continues further down the road.  Head towards Market Street, and wait by the side of the road to cross.  Often, an approaching motorist will stop and wave you across.  They’re on board with the Fremantle vibe, you see – they know that here we’ve figured out how to share the road.

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