Thursday, November 13, 2008

Walk on the wild side

The week of November 10 has been declared Road Safety week at my client's sites across the world. My client is one of the largest public companies in the world (hint: oil & gas) and have operations in over 180 countries. As one the concerned and caring organizations (believe me, it's true), they enforce and empower safety awareness amongst employees and hundreds of thousands of contractors whom are socially, culturally and linguistically as diverse as a ride on an A train on the New York subway.

I have been fortunate to travel with or to my client's locations in over twenty countries over the past many years and have been subject to diverse road and pedestrian habits at the cities visited. Some of these experiences are fascinating and some would just make you cringe:

Perth, Australia: One of the best I would say. Neat side walks. Brail surface at intersections for blind people and also for people getting out of the pubs at late night. And, a novice concept of diagonal crossing at major intersections. This is the first I've seen where all traffic stop in all directions in order to give pedestrians to cross the road anyway they want. Now I hear that this method has been adopted in few other cities as well, including Toronto at the Dundas Square.

Jakarta, Indonesia: The nightmarish traffic and pollution in this city would test your patience to the extreme that you'll be happy negotiating with a three year old toddler at the Wal-Mart toy section. However, for pedestrians, the Jakartans have implemented an "invisible force field" in which, if you ever wants to cross the road, just put your wavy hand in front of an incoming vehicle - and hundreds of motor cycles that surrounds that vehicle - and just walk across. Most likely they'll come to a stop and will give you the right of way. Now, please note, this hasn't been scientifically proven or sanctioned by the Jakarta traffic authority but I've seen hundreds of time that it worked. And, we also took the precaution of putting Rama - the biggest guy of our team, on the left or right depends on which way you crossing - to protect our bones and loved ones back home, just in case!

Bangkok, Thailand: Good that they have lots of over pass bridges built for pedestrians. Although it helps to reduce the driver - pedestrian conflict, the format of these bridges aren't entirely user friendly. If you're, like me, not in very good shape, climbing these bridges can be a breath taking task (mini-aspirin helps at night). Beside, they aren't disable-friendly and very few over passes have elevators or escalators to support the physically challenged population.

Atyrau, Kazakhstan: Well built sidewalks - designed from the Soviet era, I presume, when most of the population didn't own vehicles - are found in most places within the city. Once you emerge into residential areas, the roads are dusty or muddy and there won't be any sidewalk for pedestrians and you are at the mercy of passing vehicles however, the traffic isn't bad to enough to worry. The only worrying observations is that at intersections, a 'walk' signal doesn't always mean that you can close your eyes and cross the road. The right turning vehicles or drivers who are intentionally color blind are to be cautioned of. I've had near 'wipe-out' scenarios at least three times so far. Now, the winter is yet to blossom. So more care is needed for we, the poor pedestrians.

India, Sri Lanka, Angola and many other countries: You are either at the mercy of the driver or you better be good at slalom maneuvers. No rules are followed by all parties however, somehow you'll make it to the work place or home. It's called 'common sense' and not relying on other person or drivers to obey any rules. Just like that!

Toronto, Canada: We are the best. $100 spot fine if you're caught not yielding to a pedestrian. If you hit a pedestrian by any chance, either on a crosswalk or otherwise, better be prepared to forgo your life savings and sign-up for slavery.

Walking on the wild side can be adventurous however, make sure you and your loved ones are safe!

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