the blog posts

born to jaywalk!

The Corporation of Hamilton has changed the traffic lights in Hamilton so that the pedestrian 'stop/go' signal is at waist height now. The apparent purpose is to enable us to view the oncoming traffic as we watch for the signal to cross the street. I've posed this question before: I wonder how many pedestrians actually do that? I know I don't. I jaywalk.

Given my behavior, the article in The Atlantic Cities, How You Cross the Street Largely Depends on Where You're From by Eric Jaffe, is intriguing. When on an extended stay in Japan, Jaffe noticed the Japanese waited patiently at crossings for the correct signal even when the crossing was a very short distance or the road was not busy. Being from Manhattan, Jaffe found this odd. I would too.

He looked up the study, Different risk thresholds in pedestrian road crossing behaviour: A comparison of French and Japanese approaches in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention and found that, yes indeed, there are cultural differences when it comes to the issue of street crossing. The researchers studied two cities, focussing on similar streets in each: Inuyama, Japan and Strasbourg, France.  

It turns out, 67% of the French crossed against the pedestrian red light. In Japan the figure was 7%. When they do jaywalk, the French will wait on average 9 seconds to make the decision, whereas the Japanese will wait up to 16 seconds. I suspect Bermudians would be closer to the French than the Japanese.

view from marriott hotel, ho chi minh cityMy one visit to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam - Saigon City to the South Vietnamese who live there - was an experience that makes the French seem positively cautious. The Vietnamese travel mainly by moped and motorcycle so there are literally thousands of cycle riders travelling at speed through the city streets. While there are some intersections with functioning pedestrian stop/go signals, many don't have that. Instead, you simply step off the pavement and walk, non-stop, across the street. The cycles manoeuvre around you but they don't stop - ever.

Rob Whitworth, using time-lapse photography, beautifully captures the joy of traffic in Ho Chi Minh City.

While it took us a minute to realise that the only way to get to the other side of the street was to trust the drivers, I suspect there are Japanese still waiting.