Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Riyadh's Traffic Tamed - Almost.

The traffic of Riyadh has been tamed.
At least, at central city traffic lights it has been.
This is not just good news for road users.  It's fab news for pedestrians.
Now the possibility of being run over while crossing the road at traffic light controlled intersections, has been significantly reduced.  Though it doesn't pay to get blase`.  And crossing the road anywhere else still presents hazards at peak traffic times.

You might be thinking that crossing busy, city roads at anywhere other than traffic lights is just being silly.
But, this is Saudi.

When I first got here I was fairly certain most road users considered traffic lights to be roadside decoration, designed to be ignored.  Cars u-turned into oncoming traffic, they blocked intersections, they cut across lanes of other traffic to turn corners, six vehicles squeezed side-by-side into a street designed for four (not including the cars already haphazardly parked two deep near the footpath), they raced through red lights, they tried to reverse back through waiting traffic, horns were honking, hands were waving - it was bedlam.  And there, in the midst, was lone pedestrian trying to get from one side of the street to the other.

As I said, traffic cameras and timers, and no doubt the traffic ticket that gets sent for non-compliance of rules, has helped to tame Riyadh's vehicular traffic at main intersections.

The addition of little green and red men to manage pedestrians at intersections were only added a year or so ago, though the ones I came across weren't properly programmed sending you out into oncoming traffic so, to this day, I rely on my own visual check to ensure the road is clear, rather than the inviting little green man and his 'Walk This Way' - No Wait, I'm Just Kidding' flash.

While light controlled intersections are easier to traverse, the rest of the city is still problematic for the walking few and that's just to walk along  the road, without crossing it.

No parking signs are ignored...

Footpaths, if they exist, are often used as car parks, though just recently I noticed drivers being warned to keep off the footpath.
The black and yellow line indicates the start of the footpath.
Note two cars parked on the footpath. 
For some reason, the footpath in the picture above went through a phase of being completely blocked by parked cars, so a "Do Not Park On The Footpath" training program had to be implemented. It involved barriers and tow away signs. I was impressed at the speed that those in charge acted to clear the footpath.
Do not park on footpath barriers.

Tow away sign on footpath barrier.
If, however, crossing one of Riyadh's busy inner city streets is your intention, you cannot always find a traffic light to help.  Riyadh's roads are quite lengthy so it's a long walk to find an intersection with lights.  Dancing with cars is required.

On very busy nights when traffic is at a near standstill wending your way between bumpers isn't a problem.  But on nights when traffic is flowing at a rapid pace, because getting impatient passengers to their destination quick smart is the order from the back seat, pedestrians intending to nip across the road need to beware.  Or be a woman.

A newby to Riyadh was introduced to road crossing the other night.  We were heading out, on foot, for steak and the restaurant was across a busy street.  'How are we going to get across there?' he says.  'It's OK', says Hubster, 'we have Wifey'.

We have discovered that traffic will stop for women who are crossing the street or change lanes to get out of their way.  So, at busy thoroughfares, the Woman in Black gets sent out first.  I have to say, it is usually the Saudi drivers, young and old, who stop to let female pedestrians pass.  Men from the South Asia region do that thing where they look straight at you with a possum in the headlights look as they cruise on past, even though you're standing at the edge of the road with one foot on the asphalt.  What's with that?

I'm presuming Westerners have that, 'What the hell is she doing standing in the middle of the road?  I can hardly see her in her black clothes!  She must be mad!!' shocked outburst.  That presumption being based on Hubster's reaction to women in black roaming through traffic before he realised he could use the situation to his advantage when going out for steak.

There has only been one instance where a ute driver has had to slam on his brakes because, obviously, with my black attire on at night I am quite hard to spot, even taking my size into consideration.

Given my near invisibility at night, and my crap eyesight, I do prefer crossing Riyadh's busy city roads during the day.   At least I have a better chance of seeing, and being seen by, on coming traffic.

If it sounds like I step out into traffic willy nilly, that's not the case.  My intention to cross is clearly made.  And I do wait for break in the traffic, however slight it might be.  Once one car stops, the other lanes tend to follow suit when they see the black shape walking.  Running is not a good idea.  Either long black abaya or an unseen pothole can trip you up, dropping you to a very undignified, garbage bag looking, heap.  I did that once, fortunately not while crossing the road.  Untangling myself from my black garb back onto my feet took me frikken ages!  'It's OK', I said to the lady who came to my assistance, 'only my pride hurt', which was a lie.  My ankle was killing and I hobbled to the nearest steps to sit down, rub the pain away and compose myself.

The verges in Riyadh tend to be quite large, and can also send you flying if you're not paying attention.  I've seen one bloke, who started bouncing gazelle like through the traffic, trip on the center piece verge and stumble head long into the road on the other side.  Fortunately the vehicle surprised by his arrival was able to swerve and miss him.

Male pedestrians running the road crossing gauntlet aren't treated as nicely as women.  I've never seen cars stop for them and wave them along (unless the pedestrian happens to be a very old man).  Men have to hop, skip and jump their way through traffic or run the risk of being mown down.

As I said, Riyadh's traffic has been tamed - almost.

Ka Kite,

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