Pedestrian right-of-way in Beijing

By Wei Jia Source:Global Times Published: 2017/9/20 17:53:40

Illustration: Luo Xuan/GT

In the turbocharged hustle and bustle of China's capital, drivers are gripped by an often unreasonable urgency to get to their destinations as quickly as possible, throwing a pedestrian's safety out the window. In response to that, the city recently started a campaign to restore pedestrians' right-of-way on crosswalks and not a moment too soon.

It's illegal in China for automobile drivers to cut off pedestrians on crosswalks, but a street-smart pedestrian would put their trust in that at their own peril. Few drivers extend the courtesy to pedestrians on the crosswalk.

Most pedestrians let cars pass first. The cost of doing otherwise is horrific. According to figures released by the Ministry of Public Safety, 14,000 accidents resulting in 3,988 deaths occurred on crosswalks across the country over the past three years. Nine out of 10 such accidents were blamed on drivers ignoring the pedestrian's right-of-way.

Traffic police in Beijing have taken the matter in hand by fining lawbreakers 200 yuan ($30) and docking three points from the driver's annually renewed total of 12. A driver on zero points must take a traffic safety course and undergo a test before they are allowed back on the road. It's hard to recall there ever being a campaign of this magnitude in the city before.

The multipronged campaign also has the buy-in of local TV stations which show daily broadcasts of stern-faced police officers enforcing the law and somewhat befuddled drivers apologizing for failing to slow down at major crosswalks in the city. Gaode Maps, the Chinese version of Google Maps, has also joined in the campaign by adding voice alerts for drivers to watch out for pedestrians when their car approaches one of the 46 intersections the city has designated "pedestrians first."

The fight to change drivers' entrenched illusion of entitlement on the road is not an easy one. There were 5.5 million cars in Beijing by the end of March this year, more than in any other Chinese city, and many of those car owners don't differentiate between crosswalks and other parts of the road.

Protected by reinforced frames and using speed or car horns to stop pedestrians from crossing the street, those drivers are no better than bullies. And like all bullies, they must be called out and duly admonished.

While the deeper lesson of there being grace in the strong making way for the vulnerable may not instantly resonate with all drivers, a broad initiative to assert the pedestrian's right-of-way coupled with strict law enforcement could make crossing the streets of Beijing less of a frightening prospect for pedestrians.

That's exactly what happened in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. Beginning in 2007, Hangzhou has, through a series of high-profile public awareness campaigns and strict measures, instilled in local drivers, especially bus and taxi drivers, a sense of traffic civility towards pedestrians. The campaign was so successful that the city has become known as the first Chinese city where cars wait for pedestrians to cross the street, rather than the other way around.

I wonder, will Beijing be next?

This article was published on the Global Times Metropolitan section Two Cents page, a space for reader submissions, including opinion, humor and satire. The ideas expressed are those of the author alone, and do not represent the position of the Global Times.


blog comments powered by Disqus