15
Nov
10

Playing in the traffic

A pedestrian crossing a busy street in Shanghai reminds me of the challenges that Frogger had to face. Frogger was an old computer game where a brave and intrepid frog had to cross a 6 lane motorway dodging trucks and buses and cars to get to his destination: the river. Once he arrived at the river bank he had to hop from log to log catching flies and insects to give him sustenance for his next mission, but before he could reach the river he had to stay alive while bravely negotiating the multi-lane highway.

The idea of the game is simple, help Frogger reach the other side of the road….ALIVE. First of all you have to dodge the cars/trucks/vans zooming past on the busy highway. Then try avoid being splattered by the cyclists and last but not least, jump on to the moving logs, then on to the boats and safely into the bushes on the other side.And to make things even harder you have to do all this before the time expires.

The cars, buses and trucks in China drive on the right hand side of the road. The motorcycles, electric bikes and bicycles also drive/ride on the right, unless they are on the pavement or taking a shortcut on the left hand side of the road or in any direction across a pedestrian crossing. Right turns are “free”, i.e. a driver can turn right even when the traffic light is red, unless there is a red arrow, in which case, they need to wait. In most instances the left turning lane is the far left lane, but sometimes it is the middle lane or even the right-hand lane, in which case the free right turns are made from the middle lane. U-turns are allowed at specific places or wherever is convenient regardless of the inconvenience to others.

Pedestrian crossings at major intersections are co-ordinated by “red and green men” traffic lights and men and women wearing brown or blue uniforms. Brown = pedestrian traffic controller; blue = more important traffic policemen who pay more attention to the vehicles than the people. Both have whistles and both rule their turf very strongly. If you step off the curb before the “green man” traffic light appears – you will be strongly reprimanded, usually by a brown-uniformed pedestrian controller.

“Green man” traffic light means that pedestrians are to proceed (at their own risk): look left to avoid the drivers coming up on your left to take advantage of their “free” right turn, and look left to watch out for those from the oncoming traffic that are also turning right in front of you. Caution, without hesitation, confidence, boldness, and a degree of attitude are required skills, together with a chameleon’s ability to swivel its eyes in different directions at once.

The most important rule – as far as we can understand it – is that the one who gets their first has the right of way – once you understand that, the system works….most of the time. When there are accidents, and we have seen a few and been passengers in taxis that have been involved in some minor bumper bashings, the one who is most guilty tends to protest his/her innocence the loudest. If it is a serious accident, everyone waits for the police and/or ambulance exactly where they are in the middle of the road as the rest of Shanghai manoeuvres around them. If the accident is less serious, after many gestures and vehement protestations of innocence, the acknowledged guilty party reluctantly hands over some cash to deal placate the victim and everyone proceeds on their way.

Anyone want to play in the traffic?

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