Cars against bikes. Pedestrians against cars. And sometimes bikes against pedestrians. Chinese roads are the epitome of functional chaos with each group encroaching on the other’s space.
Many cities across the country are trying to restore the boundaries and make sure that everyone sticks to the traffic rules. This month Wuhan in central China began experimenting with automatic barriers. Safety gates which look similar to metro turnstiles were put up at six busy intersections. They automatically open and close based on the colour of the traffic lights. If people jump the barriers, surveillance cameras now capture their faces and flash the images on a big screen above the crossings.
People are divided about this new measure with many suggesting the real problem is education.
“These [barriers] are not a substitute for quality of character,” said local broadcaster Hebei TV. “By themselves they will not solve the problem of ‘Chinese-style street crossing.’ ”
The term ‘Chinese-style street crossing’ was coined by a blogger called Yuan Xiaobin in 2012 and has since entered common parlance to describe the way jaywalkers dash across busy roads or edge out onto the roads en masse when they feel the lights are about to change in their favour.
Yuan blamed the government for people’s behaviour, saying it had favoured car drivers by making waits at pedestrian crossings much longer than in other countries.
No wonder then that in major cities pedestrians and cyclists are arguably the worst rule breakers (China Daily said half of all traffic accidents in the mega city of Chongqing were caused by jaywalkers), prompting local authorities to experiment with various tactics to curb dangerous street crossing.
For instance, in 2015 jaywalkers in Shenzhen were forced to don green hats (in Cantonese “wearing a green hat” is an expression that denotes a man whose wife has cheated on him) and serve as temporary traffic assistants at busy sidewalks. Over in Shanghai, local authorities have also tried to embarrass rule breakers by making them stand up on a podium and read a newspaper out loud.
But this week the local government in Beijing decided to move away from the shaming tactics towards a more educational approach: a music video featuring dancing dama (or middle aged women) was released to encourage pedestrians to wait at traffic lights.
According to Beijing News, elderly and middle aged Chinese are some of the worst offenders when it comes to jaywalking and they pay little attention to younger police officers who try to stop them.
The anti-jaywalking song entitled Waiting for the Red Light features lines such as “there is safety in civility so just wait patiently”. Next month groups of dama will perform their new song and dance routine at 100 zebra crossings around the Chinese capital to raise awareness of the issue.
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