The Little Irritations of Life #17: PCaTS

Now, while I don’t claim to be any kind of Derren Brown, I am able to read your mind.  I know what you are currently thinking: “What is a PCaTS?”  Either that, or “Who is Derren Brown?”

The acronym stands for Pedestrian Countdown at Traffic Lights.  Not my acronym, but that of Siemens, the manufacturers of the PCaTS units.  Still not sure what I mean?  Perhaps you don’t have a PCaTS unit close to you.  Basically, it is an LED counter attached to a traffic light, which indicates how long pedestrians have to safely cross the road before the red man signal shows.

In the past, the blackout period between the green man’s disappearance and the red man’s appearance was a matter of guesswork, either leaving the cautious pedestrian fuming when it was revealed that there was plenty of time to cross; or the cavalier pedestrian scurrying, when the red man appears just as they step into the road.  In theory, the PCaTS should put an end to these two dilemmas.

However, as with so many solutions that seek to find a compromise between polar positions, all that results is an annoying fudge.

The first PCaTS was introduced in 2010 while Boris Johnson was Mayor of London.  It’s location was Blackfriars Road, opposite Southwark tube station.  Since then, they have multiplied and spread.  The first PCaTS that appeared within my modus operandi was on the corner of Russell Square and Upper Woburn Place; another followed where Endsleigh Street meets Gordon Square; with the most recent addition on the Euston Road, opposite Friends House.

The Russell Square counter is the one that I take particular exception to.  The green man is visible for such a short period of time that it is not possible to run across the road before it disappears––and, believe me, I’ve tried––and then the relentless counter begins: 10,9,8; like a ticking time-bomb; 7,6,5; like a hospital heart-monitor; 4,3,2,1; like the days slipping past to your death.  The counter only brings stress and urgency to a situation that, hitherto, was a matter of chance.  The ‘days to your death’ analogy is particularly apt: would you prefer to know when you are going to die, or live in ignorance and leave it to chance?

Instead of a counter, I think the same feelings of stress and urgency could be achieved by installing to the traffic lights a voiceover of Fathers Fitzgerald and Ted speaking on the Tannoy in Ireland’s largest lingerie section from A Christmassy Ted:

“Hurry up, come on, hurry, will you.”

“Not that way for feck’s sake.  The other way.”

© Simon Turner-Tree


Simon Turner-Tree has time to consider his own mortality while he patiently waits to cross the road.

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