Tuesday, April 09, 2013

The worst place to be a pedestrian?

In all the places I’ve travelled to, I’d say the biggest hazard I’ve encountered is being a pedestrian.  Seriously.    I’ve been to nearly 30 countries on this planet and have rarely felt threatened or unsafe, until it comes to crossing the street.

In Vietnam, crossing the street is such a hazard there are hundreds of youtube videos documenting the hazard and giving advice on how to cross the street.  When I first went to Vietnam, I was given strict instructions on street crossing.
-       only cross at a crosswalk.
-       Don’t wait for traffic to stop:  it won’t.
-       Maintain a constant rate of speed
-       Don’t look left or right
-       And for god’s sake, if there’s a bus or truck coming, jump out of the way.

I’m not making this up, and yes, it’s that bad (if not worse).  The cars and (mostly) motorcycles are judging the rate of speed that you’re crossing.  If you speed up, slow down or god forbid stop, you WILL be hit.  It’s an absolutely nerve wracking experience to have cars and motorbikes whizzing past you with mere centimeters to spare.  The first time I did it, I stood on the curb for a good 5 minutes contemplating if I REALLY needed to cross a road.  I swear it would have been less scary to jump out of a plane.  But I did it.  And after a few tries, it became a game and I just wanted to cross the street continuously.

Another bad spot is Bolivia.  Walking in Bolivia at all requires a certain skill.  IF there’s a sidewalk, it’s sure to be cracked, buckled or have potholes that could easily swallow up small animals.  Walking at all in Bolivia requires constant attention and you don’t dare look up after a month in Bolivia, I couldn’t tell you what any of the sights look like, but I could draw you a map of the sidewalks.  After all of that, you’d think that crossing the street would be nothing in comparison, but it is.  Though not as bad as Vietnam, crossing the street does involve playing a game of chicken with oncoming traffic.  And in true South American fashion, once you avoid a near miss, they’ll honk and cat whistle at you because you’re a female.

Now, Bolivia and Vietnam, you’d sort of expect to have a less than perfect pedestrian experience since those are examples of less developed countries.  The big surprise is that in my beloved Switaly, being a pedestrian is no piece of cake.

The situation is odd on a number of levels.  Lugano has a population of roughly 50,000 people, so you wouldn’t think traffic is an issue.  But it is.  In the past year, I’ve just learned to take a deep breath that I don’t have to go anywhere that fast.  Secondly,  Lugano has (without a word of a lie) a designated crosswalk every 200 meters (if not every 100 meters) so there are no shortages of crosswalks which would imply that drivers “should” be used to them.  And lastly, Switaly can’t use the excuse that it’s not developed.  The streets are relatively wide, clean and the crosswalks well lit. 

Now there could be a game that the drivers play called “Scare the shit out of the foreigner” or “aim for the foreigner” that I’m not aware of, but failing that, I’ve never had so many near misses in my life.

I will regularly cross at a crosswalk (which in itself kills me because I was born in Montreal- the capital of J walking and people will regularly zip around the corner and come within inches of bowling me over.  Now, I don’t want to perpetuate any rumors that Italians are bad drivers, but I am seriously blown away with the amount of times I’ve had near misses.  If I don’t get hit by a car while living in Switaly, I will consider it a success.   I suppose each town has it’s own characteristics, and in Switaly, it’s a tough place to be pedestrian!  

Sidewalks in Bolivia 

road crossing in Vietnam

You would never expect that crossing a street here would be a danger!