Impressions of China, Part 1: Don’t Yield to Pedestrians

Usually, when one tries to understand something very complex, there is a first phase when one learns a lot, has no idea of the vastness of the subject, and feels like he is quickly grasping it. Then one begins to appreciate its complexity, and feels completely lost.

This was my second year of graduate school, and also how I feel about China now. I do, however, have three pieces of advice for foreigners going to China: bring lots of clothes, keep a packet of kleenex with you, and watch out for cars turning right.

Let’s start from the last item.

I have grown up in Rome, and I assumed I knew all there is to know about crossing the street, but I felt out of my depth in Beijing. Waiting for the green signal did not seem to help, and following other people was dangerous too, because they would suddenly stop and I would stop one step futher, uncomfortably close to a bus zooming by.

Then, this time, I got it. Cars can turn right on a red light, and have always precedence over pedestrians and bikes. This means that all there is to it in crossing the street is to ignore the pedestrian lights, cross when it’s red for the cars, always stop to let cars turning right go through, and be aware of bicycles.

Allow me demonstrate. Here is me crossing Caijing East Road coming from the Wudaokou subway station. Note the car turning right at 0:39

.

And this is crossing Chengfu road at the same intersection. (Note the two buses going by after the pedestrian light turns green)

With my newly found understanding, cab rides don’t stress me any more.

It used to make me very uncomfortable to sit in a cab that would turn right without slowing down and plunge into a row of people crossing the street or cut through a full bike lane. I anticipated a carnage, and wondered whether I would be forced to delay my flight in order to be present at the trial. Now I know everybody will just get out of the way.

Indeed, as someone who drives a car in San Francisco, I have been in awe of these yielding rules, and I have been fantasizing about renting a car, and then just driving it in circles, turning right at the busiest intersections, and forcing bikes and pedestrians to get out of my way, while laughing manically, Bwaaah!! Unfortunately my schedule did not allow for it.

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5 thoughts on “Impressions of China, Part 1: Don’t Yield to Pedestrians

  1. my impression was that Beijing people dont yield to cars as well. there are some crossing mechanism going on there.
    on the other hand, traffic in other big cities of china seems more regular.

  2. I’ve been to northeast China once. It’s not Beijing but, yap, cars do have precedence over pedestrians. I knew it on the first day there.

  3. Great movies! May I add a few bits of advice that can make your street-crossing experience even more harmonious:

    1. Start crossing on red, when the cars going in your direction are turning left. This way you get a head-start and get a better chance of finishing on time.

    2. To minimize the danger of right-turning cars, it is good if you can find a moving barricade — a large group of pedestrians, a bicycle, or even better a three-wheeled cart that carries something big (a stack of mattresses, a refrigerator, …)

    3. Do not celebrate too early: The last lane (which should be for bikes) is also the most dangerous one. Here you can have not only cars but also buses exercising their unalienable right to go right.

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