For anyone who has ever traveled in Asia, then you understand exactly what the title of this post is about. Walking anywhere in any big Asian city – whether it be Beijing, Shanghai, Kathmandu, Bangkok or Delhi – requires a certain kind of expertise, guts and street smarts. In these large urban jungles, traffic comes in all shapes and sizes and is massive, loud, aggressive and sometimes uncaring about human life. You make a mistake once by stepping out into the street without looking and you could be dead.
The intimidating street: Crossing the street in Shanghai can be a dangerous thing.
I discovered this frightening fact the first time I was in Kathmandu and New Delhi. I had read about it before so was thankfully somewhat prepared and aware that there are real dangers involved in crossing the street and even walking down the sidewalk. I grimaced when I heard the tales of the unexpected tourist who looked the wrong way and got smashed by oncoming traffic. I was prepared, or so I thought.
I was shocked and horrified once I actually stepped onto these very streets for the first time and realized that you’ve got to truly pay attention whenever you are walking anywhere in a large Asian City. For human life is not always valued the same in a big city where there are millions of people fighting to survive and get around (ok, this is a little harsh but sometimes I really did feel this way, especially when the cars, trucks and buses came right at me in the middle of an intersection during a green walk sign!).
Never before had I felt so threatened when walking the streets than when I first arrived in Beijing. There were many close calls, especially when we first got there and were so jet lagged. Yet, after a few days we figured it out and here are the main things we discovered.
Street Survival 101: How to get around urban China without getting flattened.
First of all, there is no regard whatsoever for the “green” walk signs. Cars, trucks, mopeds, buses, you name it, all come charging through the intersection honking their horn in warning as the pedestrians scurry across. There were many times when I feared either I or someone else would be struck dead. I especially got nervous when the elderly were wobbling across. There were many close calls.
I probably shouldn’t have taken this photo and have been more concerned about my safety and my dad’s, yet this just shows how cars really don’t care if you are in their path. You’ve got to get out of the way fast or else, well….
Second of all, vehicles love to run red lights. It is extremely important that before you step out into the street you look ALL ways. Do a 360 degree look around before moving forward no matter what color the street light or walk sign indicates. Four times out of five, there will be something coming. I found the bike lane to be the worst offender. Many times bikes, mopeds, electric scooters and carts hardly stopped at all and kept going regardless of the red light.
Intersections in China can be a free for all—cars, bikes, motorcycles, trucks and people included! Beware!
Third of all, whenever you cross a street you just have to keep looking and do your best to get safely across as fast as possible. Vehicles can come out of nowhere and of course they won’t slow down or stop if you are in its path.
Getting around is a free for all.
I witnessed many “almost accidents” such as this one between the bicyclist and the moped.
Finally, just because you are walking on a sidewalk does not mean you are safe. I’ve seen motorcycles, bicycles and even small cars driving either behind or right at you on the sidewalk. It would really hurt to get your foot run over!
This guy passed me from behind…thankfully the sidewalk wasn’t too crowded.
The good news is that the Chinese are aware of the dangers of crossing the street and have done some things to make it safer for pedestrians. In Shanghai, one of the most difficult places to cross the street, I found huge above ground walkways over some of the major intersections such as this one (Note: In Beijing, these above ground sidewalks did not exist and I sure wish they had! It was insane trying to cross some of the busy intersections there and I’m happy that there were no incidents!).
Climbing up out of harms way (thank you, Chinese Government!).
I am much happier here than there down below!
When Shanghai built this new highway a few years back, it was a welcome gift not only to the drivers but also to the walkers who received the above ground sidewalks.
Because it sure beats trying to walk down there and be battling against that line of traffic.
Shanghai also adopted the use of crossing guards on some of the busy streets near the high-end French Concession. I had never seen these in other highly congested parts of Shanghai and certainly not in Beijing, which is notorious for having extremely dangerous crosswalks.
Finally there was some help for the pedestrians! The crossing guard even blew here whistle loudly at aggressive drivers and stopped them from driving through the green walk signs. Phew!
Rest assured….after a few days of walking like a local you’ll be fine! You will learn how to zigzag across traffic at extreme speed and expertise. You’ll remember to take a 360 degree look before stepping out into the street. And most of all, you’ll appreciate your streets back at home even more!
Stay tuned…more China coming soon! Thanks for reading and comments are always welcome and appreciated!