BBC built an artificial body of water in Tanzania and installed hidden cameras there to capture the beauty, diversity, and conflict unique to African wildlife. The result was “Life at the Waterhole,” a three-part series that PBS describes thusly:
There are some unexpected moments of humor as well as dramatic interactions and unlikely rivalries in the series. In the face of climate change, Africa’s wildlife, including elephants, warthogs, giraffes, monkeys, and big cats, is learning more about the importance of water to their survival.
As a city dweller and bicyclist, I am not familiar with an African water hole, but I am confident in my statement that our equivalent is an intersection. On an annual basis, intersections are involved in more than half of all injuries and fatalities. There are also plenty of “dramatic interactions and unlikely rivalries” in this city-but cars, pedestrians, and bikes are the protagonists instead of elephants and warthogs. Despite all these animals competing for water, the city itself binds them all together. All of these make up the “water” of the city, and they are what determine how everyone moves throughout it. Moving in this way can lead to all types of interactions, from the delightful to the deadly.
With nearly three times as many traffic signals as Los Angeles, New York City is known as the Intersection Capital of the United States (with over 12,000 signals). There is no better way to observe this ecosystem than by riding your bicycle to a complete stop at a red light. The perception is that bicyclists don’t stop for red lights, which isn’t entirely unfounded—in fact, there are times when it is necessary to cross a red light. You will notice that nobody really and certainly not consistently stops for pedestrians at city intersections, at least not for a while. There are gaps in traffic where pedestrians can slip through. Although most bicyclists may not know there is such a thing as the “Idaho stop” (yet). During the five seconds following the turn of the light, drivers have the tacit understanding that they are going to speed through if there is an opening in traffic.
The downward pressure from the automotive apex predator causes other species to exhibit curious behaviors, as they are constantly fleeing for their lives.
It is possible for anything to happen at an intersection, but the five seconds following a red light are fraught with the potential for sudden death. In your fellow travelers’ wary eyes, you’ll see it. The streetscapes of walking and bicycling are scanned before pedestrians and bicyclists step forward. Their heads bob as they sniff the wind for danger, then slowly lower to take a sip, like zebras on high alert for predators. It doesn’t matter whether the attack occurs at the waterhole or the intersection. Sometimes it’s the driver of a Dunkin’ Donuts rig, blasting the horn before charging through the red light; other times it’s someone behind the wheel of a car who’s whipping around the corner like a frisky cat from the other room. The number of people who miss death at every cycle of the traffic signal seems to increase every day, until they don’t.
The downward pressure from the automotive apex predator causes other species to exhibit curious behaviors, as they are constantly fleeing for their lives. Despite being more vulnerable than cars, bicyclists wait for oncoming traffic by standing still, riding around in circles to avoid putting their feet down, or reverse queuing until they jut out into the intersection (a bizarre procedure called shoaling). If they don’t, they’ll just run the light to begin with – some in a tentative and cautious manner, others obliviously rolling through on their way to nowhere, and still others simply charging ahead like a squirrel.
Pedestrians are often unnerved when they see these reckless bicyclists, who are taking over the crosswalk while they watch for drivers, or even putting the street in a racecourse. The danger from bicyclists is slightly less than that from drivers, but they pose a greater threat because they, unlike drivers, appear in a flash while you’re scanning for more obvious threats. Furthermore, some cyclists complain that “oblivious” pedestrians cross the bike lane or step in their path. People may be blamed for crossing the street, but who can blame them? On a street full of cement trucks, it’s easy to ignore a bicyclist in plain view, even one that surprises you.
There has been an increase in the popularity of electric contraptions recently-such as e-bikes, e-skates, e-scooters, and Onewheels-some of which are capable of exceedingly high speeds. In contrast with the People’s Front of Judea, which despised the Judean People’s Front, a growing number of drivers, bikers, and pedestrians seem united in their contempt for the new wave of e-assisted conveyances. While these e-machines are modeled after familiar vehicles like bicycles and skateboards, they move at an altogether different rate — faster than bikes but slower than automobiles- and they can be jarring to someone who has spent years plying the sidewalks.
The intersection remains a place of danger despite all the improvements the city has made to the streetscape.
This intersection has been tamed by the city to its credit. As of 2010, 74 percent of pedestrian deaths and major injuries occurred at intersections, according to the Department of Transportation. Over half of the pedestrians crossing at intersections with signals had the signal in their favor. Over 200 priority intersections have been identified since then for safety improvements and redesign, as well as pilot programs that give pedestrians and cyclists a head start over motorists (a leading pedestrian interval). Predators can’t get near the smaller animals because of the traffic light’s red color.
Though, city agencies don’t operate as quickly as the world. Trucks loaded with packages disgorged into bike lanes because of the rapidly expanding online retail industry. At the same time, bicycling is booming – not just commuters and recreational riders, but also those who work for food-delivery apps on e-bikes. This first protected bike lane was installed in 2007 and seemed exotic, like something imported from Amsterdam and Copenhagen. Now, in the age of micromobility, the very Getting around New York seems to be of improvised and instinct-driven nature, and bike lanes are almost quaint, and people on every possible form of locomotion pass you by. to it.
Though the streetscape has changed over the years, the intersection remains dangerous. On July 19, 2021, an American driver struck and killed a bicyclist while riding along a protected bike lane in Manhattan next to Central Park. This appears to be a collision with a truck that was turning right onto the 86th Street transverse bridge, a busy motor-vehicle route that passes the busiest park in the country. In 2018, an Australian tourist on a rental bike was killed on Central Park West when a bike lane was installed there. Despite a redesign four years ago, this confluence of commerce and recreation as well as culture and education is still challenging. The bustling city is divided from the park by a busy road divided by vehicles of all sizes and shapes, often driven by people at cross purposes.
In New York City, depending on who you ask, it is either a great desert or a great oasis. You might meet your end at any one of the water holes at the end of every block.