I talked a lot about traffic rules, and people jaywalking on the street, and even how I drive in Shanghai. All the thought is based on two assumptions:
- The international traffic rules are always the best laws possible
- We should always follow the laws although in China, most people don’t do it
But after my visit to Xiamen, and to be more exact, in Gulangyu Island, I started to think twice about what I have believed for so many years. The key question is, why we need a pedestrain crossing in the first place, and why people cannot just go across the road as they wish? I know it is crazy ideas but let me explain more.
Life with No Cars or Few Cars
Gulangyu is a wonderful place where the small island don’t have any cars (basically). There are many coffee shops, nice villa, and wonderful small streets to wander around. They don’t have cars, and the streets are not designed to cars, or even bikes.
The life is great!
It also reminds me of the nice water town like Tong Li or Zhou Zhuang – especially when it is night.
Then I have to think again, and do some reflection about what we get from automobiles, and what we have lost.
Crazy Action of Beijing University
This echos to another piece of news from Beijing University. They started to pain Zebra Crossing lines in many roads, and ask all the students and faculty to cross the streets only via Zebra Crossing. That is ridiculous. A campus should be designed for walking students, and for bike riders at most, not for cars. Who are those people driving race cars on campus? Campus belongs to pedestrian, that is for sure.
Instead of enforcing speed limit of 5 km for cars or ban cars from certain “central areas”, they did the opposite. What is the point to force students to use pedestrians? Is it safer, like to say jail is the safest place for most people – no robbery, and not traffic accident?
A City is in the Middle
A city is not as a small town of Zhou Zhuang or Tong Li, or the island of Gulangyu, but it is not completely a car world. Cars have turned our city into a big machine with little life, especially in Shanghai. Why we should care cars so much and don’t care about pedestrian? Why don’t we move the needle a little bit toward the pedestrian friendly side, and put more constrains on cars, not pedestrian?
China v.s. developed countries
Most of my U.S. friends complained about jay walking and always list it as top of their culture shock list. BUT, wait a minute. Let me tell you this. Do you think a country with 44 cars per 1000 people should have the same rule as a country with 750 cars per 1000 people?
That affects the driver and pedestrian’s behavior in two ways.
1. Pedestrian has to use road crossing in US, since if they don’t, there are high chance to get hit by a car with so many cars. In China, let’s just put few cities like Shanghai and Beijing aside, in most cities, there are much more people than cars on the streets, and crossing is safer compared to US.
2. In US, cars yield for pedestrian simply because that is possible to do, but in China, there are much more people than cars, and if you use the same behavior, that is impossible to cross.
By noticing the small difference, I believe we should think about something that work better in China.
I am a strong believer of ruling using laws, and believe everyone should follow laws, but I do have some problem with some of the laws we have – to follow what other countries have in place is easy, but may not be the best way. Back to the urban planning topics, I am a turned-environmentalist, and want to push to give lives back to people so people can live a slower, and more graceful life, than competing with cars for the right of the road. Hmmm… I am not talking about Shanghai – Shanghai is a different animal than most other cities.
Met with MC today (as always, try to keep my friend annoymous) and spent 9 hours together. Very nice conversation and learn a lot. Sillicon Valley does have something so unique, exciting and it never lacks of inspiration. Great.
BTW, Byebye, April of 2009, and tomorrow is the first day of the May Holiday.
There are some Europeans who have this kind of idea too. It can work in Europe where the drivers are careful. In US and China… the problem is that the right of way then belongs to the bigger vehicle. Buses have right of way over cars. Cars over motorcycles. Motorcycles over bicycles. Bicycles over pedestrians.
That’s why we need to have some rules to enable the smaller vehicle or ped to get somewhere without getting run over.
But in these small “water town” type places, then it’s not so necessary since there’s few or no cars.
Yes this is the constant battle for cities. Australia has many ideas for pedestrian friendly cities that never seem to come into being. The road builders businesses and government road transport departments are very big. I think they fight a harder battle for the cities than what pedestrians can ever do. Only a strong politician can change things.
I am surprised that your foreign friends list jaywalking as a big cultural divide – it’s certainly not uncommon in the U.S. I can’t get over exactly the opposite – the attitude that drivers always take precedence over walkers. What kills me (so far not literally) is the battalions of traffic regulation workers and police officers at major intersections who strictly enforce all the pedestrian rules and ignore the automobiles. If you step off the curb before the light turns green someone will whistle at you, but if a car zooms through a right turn on red while you’re in the crosswalk, you’re on your own. I don’t mind rules, or lack of rules, but if there are rules I want them to be enforced evenly. I’ve been living in China a long time and I’m used to almost everything, but this still makes me crazy.
Hmmm… Jaywalking is certainly something my friends complain, they are saying that it seems like it is illegal to use pedestrian in Shanghai.
I believe pedestrian cities are not built on purpose. The local citizens are smart enough to choose the best way to live, as long as they don’t follow the model of other cities.