Traffic Rules in Shanghai

If you come to Shanghai, at least one thing will surprise you – the ignorance to traffice rules. I remember about one year ago, I read about this on (now Shanghaiexpat.comarticle “There were no traffic rules, but only traffic suggestions”. Andrew said the same thing in his article.

It is illegal to use the pedestrian Shanghai

The article writer (sorry I forgot the name and cannot find it on the site again) even joked: “It seems illegal to use the pedestrian in Shanghai since people cross the road from every direction at any place except the pedestrian.”

Yes. The ignorance of traffic rule is very popular. That is a big problem in the city since a modern city not only needs skyscrapers, it also needs the civilization in the people. I am very interested in this topic. Everyday, when I come to a cross road, I will stop and check the traffic light on the opposite site. If it is red, then stop and wait. If it is green, you can go. What a simple rule it is. Unfortunately, I always see the MAJORITY of people – yes, the majority of people will go straitly ahead even when there is a red light over there.

It is shame for the city – a city without good traffic orders. The interesting thing is, the people who break the rule cannot get to the opposite side as quick as they wish. They need are forced to stop in the middle of the road when big vehicles and lines of cars rushing by – it is dangerous to be jammed in the middle of the heavy traffice road. I oftern find myself the only person to wait for the green light on the road from Xujiahui to Cao Bao road.

Push-for-green-light button

New equipments were installed at some cross road one year ago. They are a big palm-size button on the pole of signal lights. You need to press the button for a green-light on the opposite of the street. Unfortunately, the equipments were ignored again along with the traffic rules. Seldom can I see anyone borthered to press the button. They just directly go across the road no-matter it is red light or green light.

Not working botton

It is even worse some time the buttons do not work. I walked across the cross road of Nandan and Cao Xi North Rd at mid-night two days before. I pressed the button but nothing happened. All the four signal lights for walkers were red. I waited for serveral cycle of vehicle lights. At last, after waiting for about 15 minutes, I was so frustrated and go under the red lights to cross the road.

I reported the buttons to the hotline of Oriential TV. Two days later, that is today, I got a phone call from a report from OTV Wide Watch Program asking to interviewing me and thanking me for my report. Under the insist of the reporter, I went out of the building and met with them.


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I described the experience before the camera for about 5 minutes. The report also asked me some questions like “What do you think the use of the buttons?”, “what do you expect the transportation administration to do to help the residents?”… Then I returned to work.


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The program should be broadcasted to 1.6 million people in Shanghai at the hottest time: 19:10 tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.

OTV Wide Watch Program is the most popular news program in Shanghai broadcasting at the golden time when all family members just gather at the dining table.

About SARS

Today, there is no new reported SARS case country wide.

Tour Resumes

The Shanghai city tour resumes today. The tour bus lines heading to surrounding areas start to operate after pausing for about one month. Starting from July 1, 2003, 41 international travel agents in Shanghai are allowed to host international tourist. That is a strong signal of the positive move of the SARS situation.

Summer comes

It is announced that from today, Shanghai formally entered summer.It is defined that sequential high temperature above 22 degree C is treated as the begining of summer. Nice!

14 thoughts on “Traffic Rules in Shanghai

  1. All the complaints about traffic are true. But it’s unfair to blame Shanghainese.

    – The density of Shanghai is 2-4 times higher than Paris, New York and even Tokyo.

    – The roads are poorly planned and there is few sign of turning better. Actually, the total length of roads DECREASED 2-5% in 2002 while the economy is growing at two-digits.

    – Shanghai is a VERY busy city, people are dashing to make a living. If you don’t struggle, you lose. That’s the RULE.

    In a word, Shanghainese are living their own ways in this crowded city. Personally, I think most practices here make sense, though far from perfect.

    Declaimer: I am a new driver and I got a ticket TODAY. :(

  2. Yes, I agree with you.

    Whatever considered as uncivilized or even shameful behavior habits by Shanghainese were created compulsorily along with that so poor traffic conditions. The fact is, there was no pedestrian signal lights existed everywhere past, even now I don’t think they are equipped all over the intersections in place, people who cross the road by their feet had to follow the same traffic signs which is used to regulate wheels both cars and bicycles. That means your feet must run as fast as wheels do if you step in the cross way at last second of green sign. What we learned from elders in our childhood is you must depend on your own sence and judgement turning head at first left and then right to protect yourself when you are crossing.

    Mr Wang Jianshuo, I appreciate your courage and your tolerance even waiting for unchanged red pedestrian sign for 15 minutes in the midnight singly!

    If I can call you proudly as excellent new young Shanghainese, and the coming star on the TV :-), please be more patient with native Shanghainese and explain to or persuade your friends both national and foreign to understand these legacies and still ongoing situations

    well. It takes time for native Shanghainese to change their perceptions which have been treated as golden living rules in several decades.

  3. Don’t let people (foreigners especially) tell you how bad Shanghai’s traffic is. Yes, it’s busy, but as the first commenter pointed out the population density of Shanghai is insane compared to most major cities, so there’s not much that can be done about it.

    While I was there, I really didn’t mind it much. Honestly, it is easier to cross a road in Shanghai than it is in most cities in the United States for two reasons:

    1. Speed. Urban traffic in Shanghai never seems to get going very fast (because of the congestion). Plus, I think the speed limits are lower. Traffic here moves at a much faster rate, making jaywalking an even more dangerous proposition.

    2. Drivers are more aware of pedestrians. Because Chinese drivers *expect* people to walk in front of them, they are more alert and ready to stop. In most major cities in the US, if you tried that you’d probably get run over by a woman putting on her makeup in her SUV :).

    I agree with Xu that your tolerance in waiting for the light is commendable. I doubt I would be able to wait fifteen minutes before jaywalking :)

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  5. Take Hong Kong for example. I am pretty sure the city density is very much like Shanghai’s but people don’t try to cross the road every chance they get. They abide by their traffic rules and no one gets hurt. The drivers are at ease, they know they will most likely not pump into someone and the people are safe waiting for their turn to walk.

    I feel bad for the Shanghai drivers as they are continously worried if someone will pop up infront of them on a bicycle or running. The driver has to hit his/her break every 5 seconds hence we have traffic jam.

  6. I remember I read an article a couple of years ago, the arthur kinda of joking “little white collar” at Shanghai cause they might wait for the green light at the street corner just like our Wang Jian Shuo, they also might walk 100 meters to through the wasted Coke can…I tried once that stand there wait for the green light, it feel good and the better thing is I really make several people stand there with me. (I guess they feel no good walk straight while left a handsome young guy stand there alone:)

    On the other hand, I remember I was at San Francisco and New York. People break the traffic rules also…Well, I agree the break rate is much lower than Shanghai. But I consider it a nature phenomenon in metropolises.

    However, when I got my driving license last summer, when my new suits was “starbucked” because of the sudden stop on a taxi. I want the city we live be in good order, esp. in traffic.

  7. Yes, that article by Andrew Fletcher is really funny… partially funny because so much is true. Here is the link..

    Its hard to wait for a light that never changes. There has to be balance. People need to get from here to there, but the struggle or loose mentally keeps life a frantic pace and it is at the loss of courtesy and compassion. What good is being busy if you have no friends?

  8. Yes. It is exactly the link for the article I refered. I love what Andrew described:

    “it is illegal to use the marked crosswalks to cross streets. It has to be true, because everybody was crossing everywhere, a constant and casual strolling across the busiest and widest of streets”

    It is so true.

  9. I just returned from Shanghai last week. I drove for the first time after multiple trips(no I did not have a license). I just use patience and common sense. The original driver was from Changzhou and was driving me crazy. I find that people near Shanghai tend to drive much better.

    In the US you are taking your life in your own hands if you Jay walk US drivers simply do not look for people on the street.

    I was in Hong Kong and I Jay walked. I was quickly corrected and informed that the police impose a heavy fine about $500 US and is strickly enforced.

    I also have been going to Taipei for about 15 years. Once the city was very similar. Strict police oberservation has ridden the city of this. The City now ranks highest in the world for collected fines. People do get the message sooner or later.

    Realistically the way to solve the traffic problem is for excellent mass transit which Shanghai is aggressively persuing.

    By the way I really wanted to ride the Mag Lev but it only runs during daylight.

  10. Forgive my spelling above, English is my primary language but I’m a lazy writer.

  11. Actually… French people also often cross the road even if the red is light, and i’m sure they are not the only ones to do that?

    Who would be crazy enough that Paris is not a modern city. Ok, maybe it becomes old lately compared to Shanghai.

    Anyway, Shanghai is dealing the problem in the Chinese way: not letting people realize by themselves that there is a problem, but force them to realize by putting fines when you cross during a red light. I got caught once so it’s not (totally) a law that nobody cares about.

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