Look who’s crossingby Mark Kitto / November 16, 2011 / Leave a comment
Published in December 2011 issue of Prospect Magazine
I was driving along a street in Hangzhou, the nearest big city to the mountain, when the car in front slammed on its brakes. I almost smashed into it. I was taken by surprise, even more so when I realised the reason. The car had stopped for someone waiting to use a pedestrian crossing.
No one stops at pedestrian crossings, ever. When children visit from Britain I warn them not to use them. I am so used to ignoring them myself that I have to be extra careful when I rent a car back home.
Yet the citizens of Hangzhou are at last using pedestrian crossings—which have been in place for years—for their intended purpose. There are new characters painted on the road in front of the crossings: “Cars must stop for pedestrians” (from now on).
But every silver lining has a cloud. People who ride bicycles, motorbikes or electric bikes also use the pavements and therefore consider themselves to be pedestrians. They are now exercising their perceived right to use the crossings, to the annoyance of drivers. This has converted some crossings into minor roads for bikes with a perpetual right of way. I doubt that the new respect will last. It was already in abeyance when I tried using a crossing on foot myself. That was another close escape.