No, I haven’t lost my mind.
One of the things that I adore the most about London, is the sheer curiosity that this city engenders. You think you know London, and then you discover that some of the Trafalgar Square traffic lights have special symbols, rather than the ubiquitous stick man ushering pedestrians across the crossing.
If I’m being honest, this isn’t a new discovery for me – but one that I’ve meant to share forever and a day, and never quite managed to write the blog post.
So here I am, fresh off from a day of London touring with New Zealand friends, and ready to finally share my cute discovery. (I took them on a bespoke ‘Emma Tour’ stretching from breakfast with a view from Aqua Shard, past The Globe, across the wobbly bridge, around St Pauls Cathedral, along Fleet Street, past Clement St Danes Church, stopping quickly in the Twinings Shop and Museum, introducing them to Kaspar the lucky cat in the Savoy, along Pall Mall, past Buckingham Palace and dropping them into Fortnum and Masons. We managed 15,000 steps, but I clearly didn’t exhaust them as they went on to do another 16,000 without me!)
But, I feel like the street furniture highlight (I never thought that was a phrase I’d type), was found in the Traffic Lights around Trafalgar Square, just near the Charing Cross tube station entrance (you know, the shortcut to the Bakerloo Line next to St Martin’s Church – you didn’t know that? You’re welcome).
For the 2016 Pride Week in London, fifty pedestrian lights were replaced with gender-neutral or LGBTI images, such as a crossing same-sex couple. The installation was based on gay-friendly lights installed in Vienna ahead of Eurovision in 2015.
The London lights were actually meant to be only temporary (a bit like the Greenwich Millenium Dome, 18 years later) but some have become permanent in the city’s iconic Trafalgar Square. At the time, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan said the new signals demonstrated “the tolerance and celebration of difference in our city.”
I just love them.
I also love that they are a subtle ode which most people might miss in their busy lives. I’ve always been one with an eye for unique detail, and every time I show these to friends who haven’t noticed them before, they cross the road with a smile on their face. (It may just be a polite smile because I’m crazy but I’m ok with that.)
Every time I’ve been at those lights and stopped to take photos, strangers finally look up from their phones and notice the lighthearted safety feature – and grin away. Such a simple thing, but quite powerful in their own way. Sure, they won’t wipe homophobia from the world, but every shoreline beach is made from many grains of sand, am I right?
Alison Camps, director at Pride in London, said: “It’s fantastic that London is a city so keen to celebrate Pride that even traffic lights can be used. This small symbol is a big gesture from the Mayor of London and TfL, and we’re delighted to have their support.
“These lights are a perfect display of that, saying that our city recognises each and every one of us for who we are.”
They also make me think of home – in my favourite New Zealand city, Wellington, there are pedestrian lights of key suffragette Kate Shepherd around our Parliament building, and of crossdressers in the Te Aro ‘red light’ district. Don’t even get me started on Berlin’s Ampelmann – he has a whole store dedicated to his pedestrian light exploits.
Whatever will they think of next? While we’re here, thinking about unique London oddities – did you know that in Trafalgar Square, a secret hides in plain sight?
What is the most curious architectural detail that you’ve come across on your travels?