Friday, October 05, 2007

Herding instincts

With the new influx of students, the town seems curiously full. Perhaps the impression is compounded by the herding instincts of particularly the new students. I imagine the thought guiding their group-bonding behaviour is that if you are ever more than a metre or so away from one of your newly-made friends you might (a) get lost, (b) be forgotten about, (c) spend your next three years at university lonely and unloved. This tends to calm down eventually, of course, but for now it is causing major problems with the traffic.

There have always been bad cyclists in Cambridge, but now they are supplemented by huge pelotons of students, trying to stick together and therefore heading to lectures riding three or more abreast down the street. Many of them haven't cycled regularly since they were young kids and don't yet have the traffic sense to get out of the way when required and speed up when necessary. (And lots of them don't know yet how to change gear with confidence so end up peddling furiously in a low gear but failing to make much progress down the road.)

The cycle herds are reinforced by flocks of pedestrians. This morning a bunch of ten or so decided that in order to get to a lecture on the Sidgwick site they were perfectly entitled to stand in the middle of the Queen's Road/Silver Street crossroads. Like a bunch of Buridan's asses they seemed caught between an urge to get to the other side and an equipollent urge to retreat to the curb. So they just stayed there, waiting for some brave soul to take on a leadership role and manage the crossing. I've seen this sort of behaviour on David Attenborough programmes, so it's comforting -- in a way -- to have such a graphic illustration of the fact that humans are, after all, social animals in much the way that wilderbeest are. Thankfully, Cambridge drivers are -- for now -- generally in a forgiving mood or the body count would be pretty horrific.

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