By Tom Bannister
Who has the right of way? Is there a right of way? Are all Mercedes-driving-businessmen red-green colour blind? Can buses just do whatever they like? These are just a sample of the questions that spring to mind when waiting to begin another traverse of a Shanghai pedestrian crossing. This confusion is now confirmed by official figures. Following news that 67% of Chinese drivers don’t stop at red lights, Shanghai traffic police have published figures that show that the city’s pedestrians are not that much better. This year around 350,000 people in Shanghai were given fines that ranged from 5 to 50 yuan for jaywalking. Jaywalking is technically illegal in urban China but you might be forgiven to thinking that this was not the case. When a crossing is used, many people have realised the best way to cross is to ignore the lights and use people-power. The Shanghai Daily says that a name has been coined for this: “collectively walking the red light”. When the first person edges out, you edge out with him. When the next person edges out, you move a bit further. Injuring the odd peasant doesn’t worry Mercedes drivers, but hitting twenty will seriously damage their car. But, before blame is heaped entirely on this very Maoist attitude to crossing, according to the Daily the lights themselves have problems:
Some locals complain that downtown pedestrian red light signals last too long – it can take more than two minutes before getting a signal to cross. But recent studies have found that an average person’s patience waiting for a red signal to change runs out after about 90 seconds. Traffic police have said they would make some of the longer red signals shorter.