Hanoi: Crossing the Street

One of the things I have noticed in my travels around the U.S. over the years, is that it seems that residents of any big city want to brag on how their traffic is the worst ever or that they have the worst drivers. It is kind of like bragging on how your kid is in the bottom 10% of his class, but much more common.

However, until one has traveled the world, you have no idea how mild our traffic and drivers really are in comparison. Well, comparison is the wrong word as it is not even close..better to say contrast.  I don’t mean to sound pedantic, but there is just no comparison.

Here again, there are certain stories that take on mythic proportion through retelling such as the supposedly impossible task of navigating the roundabout around the Arc De Triomphe in Paris. Based on my readings for this trip, crossing the street in Hanoi and Saigon have taken on a similar legendary status.

Now, no doubt, traffic in Hanoi is crazy..

Who has the right of way?

Who has the right of way?

Traffic signals are routinely ignored, two lanes get turned into 3 or even 4, motor bikes regularly go against the direction of traffic or drive on the sidewalk, motor bikes are often loaded with more goods than fit inside my Ford Expedition, and it seems that all 3.5 million residents of Hanoi own a motor bike and are out driving it exactly where you are at and exactly at the same time.

Sharing the sidewalk

Yet, one also sees children who are 12 years old riding their bikes in the middle of all of this so how dangerous can it really be?

It seems the most common suggestion for crossing the street is to wait until a local ventures out and shadow them across. Notwithstanding the stalking nature of this move and how much time one might have to wait, I figured there had to be better advice to impart.

First of all, if you are crossing at a controlled intersection, i.e. where there is a traffic light, cross with the signal. This may seem obvious but one must also exercise caution as there is no guarantee that vehicles and bikers will heed the signal. But, it is a start.

If you are using an uncontrolled crossing, there are only two inter-related rules that you need to follow:

  • Be deliberate
  • Be predictable

You simply have to step into the street despite the traffic but in such a way as they can tell where you are going and avoid you. This is a bit intimidating the first time but, after a few times, it gets kind of fun as the sea of traffic parts around you.

But, also consider that in this morning’s Viet Nam newspaper, a front page article celebrated the fact that they had under 10,000 traffic fatalities in 2013 for the first time in years. 

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