Crossing the road Chinese style

One of the first things we learned when we came to this country was how to “cross the road Chinese style”. Coined by Chinese internet users, the term describes pedestrians who throng together to cross the street where there’s no crosswalk or at marked intersections when the pedestrian lights are against them. There’s safety in numbers was our theory as we attached ourselves to groups of locals to make our way across the busy streets.

Getting to the other side of the street often involves crossing one lane at a time, waiting on the line between lanes until the one in front of you clears. Like the locals, we often cross in the middle of a block rather than at a corner. It’s actually safer and easier than crossing at an intersection where the lights may or may not work and if they do, don’t allow nearly enough time for even an able bodied person to get across before turning red. By far the worst thing about trying to cross at an intersection, though, is the fact that you have to constantly watch for turning vehicles; not just the ones turning right but also those that are turning left! That’s right, the left turn light and the pedestrian light are often on at the same time! We joke that this must be a population control tactic. Send the pedestrians out into the street and then run over them!

Drivers share the road with conveyances of every description including modern buses, bicycles, motorcycles and three wheeled carts that are often so heavily loaded that you can barely see the driver. Some of these are pedal powered and others, fuel driven. These vehicles don’t seem to have any difficulty making room for one another but drivers NEVER give pedestrians the right of way!

Crossing the road Chinese style has been making headlines recently as cities like Beijing and Chengdu have started imposing on the spot jaywalking fines. It hasn’t happened in Dalian yet but we hear rumours that it soon will. Unfortunately, imposing fines doesn’t address the root of the problem.

Until recent years, China was a country of bicycles but automobile sales have soared at a rate of more than 20% per year since 2001 and in 2009, China overtook the United States as the world’s biggest automobile market. Infrastructure simply hasn’t kept up with the ever growing number of vehicles on the road. Here in Dalian, there are pedestrian underpasses in the downtown core
and we’re very fortunate to have a pedestrian overpass joining the north and south campuses of our university which straddles a very busy thoroughfare but many cities lack these pedestrian-friendly conveniences.

Without changes to both driving laws and infrastructure, I don’t see crossing the road Chinese style coming to an end anytime soon.

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