pedestrians

I still don’t get why people here have to walk in the middle of the road.  And while I’m at it, nor do I understand why pedestrians walk on the side of a busy street when there is a perfectly good pavement next to them.  Fair enough, I concede that sometimes they are forced into the road because the pavement has become a parking lot for the latest restaurant of fashion.

I’m not sure how word gets around, I suspect there must be some websites for the ‘yah’ set who blog about their dining experiences and how much they forked out for a bowl of rice.  Pretty soon a restaurant becomes the place to be seen and spaces by the entrance are decorated by lines of Porsche Cayennes and Range Rovers.  Quality tails off pretty quickly after that and the remainder of the spaces restaurant-side are padded out with Audis and other high powered German machinery.  The shitty French cars are all to be found on the unlit pavement on the other side of the street and the riff raff (myself included) take to the streets.

But if the drivers exhibit scant regard for pedestrians while behind the wheel, they immediately adopt their carefree attitude as soon as they have huffed and puffed themselves out of the car and on to the street.  They are there to eat, drink and talk loudly on their smartphones and don’t want to waste precious seconds checking for cars and simply amble out into the road assuming the cars will swerve around them.

An uneasy truce or unspoken understanding seems to have developed between driver and pedestrian, a sort of “I’m not going to look both ways before walking out into the road shitface, well that’s fine with me bitch because I was checking my phone for messages anyway” sort of agreement.

Drivers will do anything behind the wheel as long as it doesn’t involve concentrating on what is going on outside the car.  I’ve seen cars moving along at speed, apparently devoid of driver, because he or she was bending down to get something off the floor or out of the glove compartment.  GPS systems are to be programmed on the move; the only time you should stop is to take a phone call, and preferably when in the outside lane, although it is permissible to crawl along at 5mph as if looking for a bit of local talent.

Despite their inherent instability – the motorbike, not the rider – motorcyclists aren’t any better.  I was riding my bike into work yesterday morning and was caught behind a geezer on a moped who started trying to squeeze between the gap between a bus and the kerb.  If he’d picked up the pace a bit he probably would have made it, but the bus started moving over to squeeze past another bus in the middle lane.  At this point the prudent thing would have been to back off and admit the moment had passed but mr moped gaily puttered alongside the bus until it sideswiped him and knocked him onto the pavement.  Even two years back I might have stopped to check he was okay but I could see him trying to lift the bike of himself so I figured he was fine and would only probably start trying to somehow blame me anyway.

The bewildered look when something like this happens is something else I don’t get.  If you are standing in the middle of the road sending a text message and you suddenly get clipped by the wing mirror of a passing car with driver I don’t think there is much cause to ask “a car?  Wherever did that come from?”

A student asked me to read an essay they had written for entrance to a PhD program at an American College.  The topic was some kind of bullshit about how your experiences had shaped your decisions in life.  From reading the essay It turned out this student had broken both legs while at high school when crossing the road and underwent painful surgery and subsequent therapy before she could walk again.  In the closing paragraph she asked “What was the valuable lesson I learned from all of this?”  “look both ways before crossing the road?” was my immediate reaction.  But apparently not, she learned that life was a precious thing to be cherished and appreciated everyday, learn to love every moment, blah blah blah.

I thought that maybe all these traffic fatalities in Wuhan were a consequence of the population adjusting to increased traffic flow in the city and that over the course of time a sort of Darwianian cull would take place.  Pedestrians who didn’t look both ways before darting out into six lanes of traffic would find themselves embedded in the windscreen of a passing Buick, or entangled in the undercarriage of an overloaded truck, but 5 years on and the numbers continue to rise unabated.

I think much of it has to do with parents who are more concerned with their kid’s grades and whether they are going to get into a good primary school rather than worrying about such niceties as crossing the road safely.  Everyday I see someone guiding a small child down the middle of the road, and they’ve even got the tyke on the outside where it can be more easily sucked up by a fast moving dump truck.  Parents will happily send their first (and generally only born) across the busy street for a packet of ciggies and don’t even observe their progress.

In attempt to curb such foolhardy actions the authorities started erecting barriers along the center of the main roads in the city.  While it didn’t produced the expected change in behaviour (pedestrians still dart out into the street, but slow down to jump the barrier) it did have the desired effect, the cars can no longer get on to the other side of the street to avoid accidents or broken down cars, so the traffic flows less freely now.  Less speed means fewer fatalities.  Maybe there is hope after all.

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