The street sign looked normal at first because it was on a post. Americans put lots of things on posts, like directions, lamps, flags, and for some reason old boots. Posts are friendly pieces of verticality that hold things in a person’s line of sight to convey important bits of information, like “Stop,” “Garage Sale,” “Trespassers will be shot,” and “Big T’s, Brayton, Food, Cold Beer” on cardboard in Sharpie. This British post rose from the pavement that ran beside Greenwich Park, and held a yellow warning sign with the picture of a traffic signal in a red triangle. That made perfect sense to me; it was the words “humped pelican crossing” that did not.
Humped pelican crossing? This was a street crossing, obviously, but for what? Pelicans? The are six pelicans on the loose in London, all donated by foreign governments (namely Russia and the City of Prague) in an apparent attempt to annoy people eating lunch in a park. Namely St. James’s Park, which is across the Thames and six miles away from this sign. So what pelicans are this sign on about, and why are they humped? By “humped” does this mean the pelicans crossing here should be ringing bells at a church in France, or have they simply just had sex? Either way the sign is oddly specific.
Turns out in London this sort of sign is completely normal and has absolutely nothing to do with pelicans, physically deformed, horny, or otherwise.
There are six official types of pedestrian crossings Americans should know about when visiting the UK:
School crossing. The rule here is don’t run over children no matter how annoying they are. The warning sign is a red triangle featuring the sillohete of a mother dragging her son to school, even though he’d rather be home playing video games. On the crossing itself you may find what is affectionately called a “lollipop person”; a crossing guard holding a round sign on a pole that says, “stop.”
Zebra crossing. You ever see the Abbey Road album jacket? If you haven’t, you’re lying. It features John, Ringo, Paul, and George crossing the street on a zebra crossing, called that because of the white stripes on black pavement. There are no lights here, nor are there lollipop people. The cool thing for pedestrians is pedestrians have the right of way. The awful thing for drivers is that pedestrians have the right of way, and may muck up the flow of traffic for an inordinately long time – especially stupid tourists on Abbey Road, of which I was one.
Now things get a bit silly.
Puffin crossing. Puffin stands for Pedestrian User-Friendly Intelligent crossing, not the pelagic seabird. Puffin crossings don’t have a traffic light but offer a control box with a button. Once pushed, pedestrians wait until the light changes to a little green man, then cross. Kind of a like waiting for a sideways elevator.
Toucan crossing. A Toucan crossing is called a Toucan crossing because two can cross. These crossings are for pedestrians and cyclists to use. The British are much more tolerant of their cyclists than Americans and allow them to become part of traffic instead of simply giving them the finger.
Pegasus crossing. A Pegasus crossing is like a Toucan crossing except they are for people and horses not, as advertised, Pegasus.
Pelican crossing. The Pedestrian Light Controlled Crossing (Pelican) is like most crossings in the United States. There’s a traffic light, there’s a button pedestrians push that may, or may not actually work, and when the little man appears on the light across the street it’s safe to cross. A Humped Pelican crossing is a Pelican crossing with speed bumps (called “humps” in the U.K.).
I walked around the streets of London for a month. I’m lucky I survived.