|(Top) The Abbey Road picture of The Beatles that Calcutta police used to encourage jaywalkers to cross roads safely; a lollipop lady helping children cross a London road
London, Aug. 9: “If they can, why can’t you?” With this question, police in Calcutta began in February last year what has been applauded widely as an innovative campaign to encourage jaywalkers to cross roads in safety — just as The Beatles had done when negotiating Abbey Road in St John’s Wood in north London way back in 1969.
The initiative received admiring coverage in British newspapers and even on the BBC.
But Calcutta police may have to rethink their well-intentioned campaign given that Westminster Council, which has jurisdiction for Abbey Road, announced yesterday it will have to do something about what has become one of the most dangerous crossings in London. This is because Abbey Road is pulling in more and more tourists.
Appointing a lollipop lady is one possibility.
For those unfamiliar with the concept, a lollipop lady is a woman with a round poster resembling a lollipop who comes out in the morning and in the afternoon to make sure young children and their parents cross a road safely. The ladies are what Bengalis would call ginni, generally kindly figures, but they can turn fierce if they suspect a motorist is trying to beat the children across a zebra crossing.
Of course, George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and John Lennon were not exactly thinking of road safety when they were crossing the road but were being photographed by their friend Ian Macmillan for what would become an iconic album cover. The album, in common with much of The Beatles’ output, was recorded at the nearby studios.
The Abbey Road studios were listed as a heritage property in 2009, and the following year, on a recommendation from English Heritage, Abbey Road was given a Grade II listing. That basically means it has to be preserved much as it is and its name cannot be changed on the whims of an eccentric council chief.
There is now a 24-hour cross cam in place, which proves there is always a crowd of tourists at the spot, bringing welcome revenue to the British exchequer but simultaneously annoying the hell out of the motorists. This isn’t a joke since over the years hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of tourists have been attracted to Abbey Road — and what’s the point of making the journey unless they can replicate the album cover. Which adds to the irritation of the drivers while photographs are taken — and tweeted to all corners of the world. Which encourages even more tourists to come to Abbey Road. Some tourists even take time to wave at the cam.
One thing and another, the problem has got out of hand.
Westminster Council said it was discussing options to manage the busy traffic flow, including the possibility of employing a lollipop lady.
A spokesman said: “Safety concerns at the crossing are being discussed and we are looking at the options. We’re looking at what the best thing is to do. The council is, to some extent, responsible for keeping people safe.”
The discussions emerged as the stars of the West End musical Let It Be posed for their own photograph on the crossing, exactly 45 years after the album cover was shot.
Westminster City councillor Lindsey Hall said the crossing has always caused a problem.
“It’s a residential area and it’s not geared to receiving thousands and thousands of people — so it’s quite hard to get some tangible solutions,” she said.
“Obviously we don’t want to be spoilsports; we are really proud of our musical heritage. I’ve seen huge double-decker buses parking on double yellow lines right outside the studio, causing total chaos to traffic and causing danger to people trying to get their photograph. It would be good to have somebody there permanently.”
So what should Calcutta police do now, given local tradition is to wait until a car or a bus is almost on top of you and only then make a dash across the road? Perhaps it might be easier all round if London became more like Calcutta.