Does it have a siren and a flashing light?

Before we leave the topic of the British Museum, I have a note on leaving the actual building of the British Museum. Parked at the foot of the steps that day I found this:

bikeambulance

It’s a little hard to tell from the full photo, but in the close-up you can see what I found so surprising:

ambulancebike

I had no idea that ambulance bicycles existed. In my mind, an ambulance scenario involves getting a sick or injured person first onto the stretcher, and next into the back of the vehicle, after which sirens and flashing lights come into play. So what’s up with an ambulance bicycle?

It turns out that while a standard fully equipped, lights-flashing ambulance has a lot going for it in many situations, it has nothing at all going for it in others, simply because it can’t get going. Perhaps the medical emergency is in a setting inaccessible to motor vehicles, or in an area where traffic is notoriously bad.

145px-London_CC_12_2012_5045A place like London meets that last criterion to a T. At one point London traffic became so congested that they named a zone after it (London Congestion Charge Zone, born 2003). In an effort at decongestion, the local government began to charge vehicles on the roads a hefty daily fee (currently £11.50).*

The scheme has raised many billions of pounds, and reduced traffic congestion by a modest 10%. If you consider the huge number of black taxis, lorries, and iconic red double-decker buses crawling from place to place, and add to them all the locals who are willing to cough up £11.50 for the privilege of idling on London’s streets, you can well imagine that ambulances still are not free to careen around the city unhindered.

Quite apart from the question of access, not everyone with a medical emergency needs that stretcher or the ride to the hospital. They might just need a paramedic with the sorts of supplies that can fit in a bicycle pannier.

Which brings us back to the British Museum, and the ambulance bicycle parked in front. Sometimes referred to as cycle responders, I take it that these first responders can get places that big ambulances can’t, and can get there even if traffic is impossible. I imagine they have impressive calf muscles, too. My last question is, does that rig have a siren and a flashing light?†

This 1916 ambulance was used by British, French and American troops in WWI.

Some ambulance history: this 1916 outfit was used by British, French and US troops in WWI.

 

*A variety of exemptions come into play: if you live inside the zone your fee is reduced by 90%, and if you drive an all-electric vehicle you don’t have to pay it at all. But for the average person who lives outside London and wants to drive to the office, or to see whether the Queen’s at home, it’s going to be a big expense.

†Given London weather and the rain we experienced that day, I was glad to see it has impressive fenders, at least.

[Images: yours truly and Wikipedia]

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3 thoughts on “Does it have a siren and a flashing light?

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