Friday, March 31, 2006

CHINESE CYCLISTS - Sharing the Road

Remember this hilarious bit of Douglas Adams from Last Chance To See?
The first time you stand at a major intersection and watch, you are convinced that you are about to witness major carnage. Crowds of bicycles are converging on the intersection from all directions. Trucks and trolley-buses are already barrelling across it. Everyone is ringing a bell or sounding a horn and no one is showing any signs of stopping. At the moment of inevitable impact you close your eyes and wait for the horrendous crunch of mangled metal but, oddly, it never comes.

It seems impossible. You open your eyes. Several dozen bicycles and trucks have all passed straight through each other as if they were merely beams of light.

Next time you keep your eyes open and try to see how the trick's done; but however closely you watch you can't untangle the dancing, weaving patterns the bikes make as they seem to pass insubstantially through each other, all ringing their bells.
This blog post reminded me of this funny bit from Last Chance To See, and led to me finding this amusing article on Chinese road etiquette entitled Sharing the road.
Generally, the bigger you are, the more right of way you have. So trucks and buses are near the top of the pecking order, followed by cars, motorcycles, bikes and, finally, the lowly pedestrian.

A single, short tap on the horn means "that's my space and I'm coming through." It's used at high speed on the open road to warn other vehicles not to change lanes and on slow-moving city streets to maintain a minimum of clear space around the front bumper.

For cyclists this means constantly weaving around vehicles and other bicyclists, but always being ready to give way; similarly, people on foot, even at a green "walk" sign or at a pedestrian crossing, must be prepared to stand back and let every other road user go first.

Indeed, cars, taxis and other vehicles will just keep aiming straight for pedestrians, even the very old or women struggling along with small children, until they stop, stand back and let the motor traffic through.