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Beware! Zebra crossing

By June Lover [email protected]

After 35 years in the TV and film industry, June Lover retired to the Algarve in 2006.  Having owned a holiday property here for 12 years she now lives in the hills above Almancil. This is June’s first column under the ‘Is it just me?’ banner.

Are you one of those people who gives a nod and a smile, or maybe a wave of the hand as a gesture of thanks to a motorist who has stopped for you at a zebra crossing?

Yes, I thought so. This makes you as rare as the zebra itself in this neck of the woods, and you might as well be wearing a flashing neon sign saying BRIT!

And have you noticed, as a motorist, that pedestrians (unless they’re sporting that neon flashing sign) offer no acknowledgement whatsoever as they step onto said crossings without so much as a pause or a sideways glance? Yes, I thought so.

And have you ever wondered why pedestrian crossings are situated in the most dangerous places for motorists? On T-junctions, crossroads, roundabout exits? Yes, I thought so.

Finally, have you ever noticed that zebra crossings disappear because of the sun, or traffic use, or road works? Yes, of course you have. 

With regard to the last observation, why haven’t our Portuguese pedestrians spotted the disappearance of these essential safety crossings?

The answer is simple. It’s because they know instinctively where they are, where they were, or where they should be. And it’s up to idiots like you and me to set aside the sense and sensibility of UK pedestrian crossings, and develop a sixth sense which was never mentioned in the ‘Driving Abroad’ handbook.

Be prepared to slam your brakes in the most dangerous and unlikely places and risk a damaging shunt from the rear.

From the first moment I set foot on Portuguese soil almost 20 years ago, I have never been able to understand the siting of what is supposed to be a safe road-crossing area.

It might be safe for the pedestrian, but it’s a nightmare for the motorist, and I’m amazed that more accidents don’t happen.

To be fair, these crossings are signposted, but the little blue triangle is easily lost in the forest of signage that lines the roads, especially in towns and cities.

Meanwhile, if I want to cross the busy and dangerous road between Loulé and Almancil, there isn’t a pedestrian crossing for miles. Perhaps we village folk don’t matter.

Last summer I sustained a pretty nasty back injury. It was my own fault. I should have known better than to try and lift a three-seater sofa singlehanded at my age.

After six weeks of intensive treatment, I was back on my feet but still in pain. The recommendation from all quarters was – walk!

Proper walking. Head high, arm-swinging, stride-out walking. None of this sauntering round the shops in your flip-flops walking. Power walking!

It made sense, but first I had to find flat areas for my new exercise regime and living in the foothills presented me with a challenge. It turned out that this was quite easily met and I chose an area which was relatively traffic-free where I could walk on the side of the road rather than the uneven calçadas which play havoc with your feet.

And, of course, it had the requisite zebra crossings at every junction and roundabout.

So I dutifully went on my route march every day. This turned out to be a fairly hazardous pastime, especially where the zebra crossings are concerned.

Maybe I wear the permanent flashing neon BRIT sign and perhaps the Portuguese don’t like British walkers.

All I know is that I took my life in my hands whenever I attempted to cross the road on these wretched painted stripes.

Unlike my Portuguese friends, I was careful to look left, right, and left again before putting as much as a big toe on the crossing.

Just as well, because in the first month of my new activity, only a handful of motorists had the courtesy to stop and allow me to cross the road in safety.

Concrete mixers, lorries, motor bikes, cars (plenty of them sporting GB plates I’m ashamed to say) thundered past showering me in a thick layer of dust. So much for the zebra crossing!

Slowly but surely the penny dropped and I realised that this is the very reason why the natives step onto the crossings with such confidence.

If they wait, as I do, they’ll surely miss their bus and be late for work. I admire their faith, although I haven’t the courage to try it myself.

Whilst it might be against the law to run pedestrians over, I’d rather err on the side of caution.

It also explains why they don’t give the friendly acknowledgement that we Brits do. Why should they?

They’ve just risked life and limb to do a simple task like crossing the road. Gratitude is the last thing on their mind.

Along with the danger factor of my regular trudge, there was a boredom factor too, so I decided to expand my horizons and find some new routes.

One such experiment took me through the back lanes of my local town. No calçada pavements and no zebra crossings, but traffic-wise it seemed to be relatively quiet and I strode out with confidence.

It was here that my beliefs were confirmed. Pedestrians, with or without back problems, have no status whatsoever.

With good sense, or so I thought, I walked against any oncoming traffic as I had been taught to do as a youngster.

Once again this was just as well, because I spent a good deal of my walk diving for cover in the hedges and ditches that border the road.

Not one single motorist gave me a wide berth. They just aimed at me as if it was a national sport and I was the target.

Even a cyclist swerved towards me at the last moment on an empty road and I heard him laughing as I picked my way out of a prickly thorn bush.

It’s no secret that I’m unimpressed by the standard of driving here, an opinion which is shared by many of you judging by the Letters Page over the last 12 months.

My own experiences confirm my view that most motorists should have their vehicles confiscated and their licences rescinded until such time as they can prove that they can drive safely and with consideration for other road users – and that includes pedestrians.

My last-ditch attempt at safe walking was on the prom at Quarteira. A mile-and-a-half of uninterrupted pedestrian walkway with only the sea and the sand and a few like-minded folk for company. And not a zebra crossing in sight. What bliss! 

So next time you’re rewarded with a friendly smile and a cheery wave as you stop to let someone cross the road, look carefully. It’s probably me!