Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Walk this way

I've read that Korea has the highest rate of pedestrian fatalities in the world, and I believe it. Exhibit A: the short and winding road that is my walk to work.

First I turn right out my building's front door and right almost immediately at the corner:

I live on a very quiet street, except when the workers in the 30-story LG r-and-d  building are coming or going from their work day; that's a parking lot that caters to them on the left.

Then I walk to the main street, with no sidewalks and, as you can see, cars parked every which-a-way:

Then I arrive at the world's worst-designed intersection and cross the street that separates E-Mart and Costco, which are two blocks to the right, and divides Yangjae-dong, in Seocho-gu, in the city of Seoul, where the school is, and Gwacheon-si, in the province of Gyeonggi-do, where I live.

What, you may ask (unless you're the type who only looks at the pictures and thus are not reading this, so what am I babbling on about) makes this such a poorly planned intersection? Well...

The two crossing streets are misaligned by ten feet. There's a stoplight, independent of the one in the last photo,  fifteen feet to the left of the intersection and another one forty feet past that. There's a bus stop between the traffic lights.

People turning left out of the side street make the turn and wait, slightly diagonally, while people cross the main street with the "walk" light. Sometimes a second car lines up behind the first, sticking into the wrong traffic lane.

Others (as you can see) park with their butt ends... their car's butt ends... almost in the intersection. This is common with small trucks delivering to the convenience store on the left.These drivers may back into the intersection.
People who have had to turn right out of the E-Mart parking lot, a block to the right, pull three-point turns and u-turns at this spot; I've seen a three-point, a u, and a back-in performed simultaneously.

Delivery guys on scooters, cabbies, and often bus drivers ignore stoplights if there are no pedestrians crossing the street.

Then I zig left, walk across at the crosswalk (that's logical, right?) which is about at the back end of the car in this picture, and zag right, down the little street you see here, which turns into this:

Often at lunchtime there are cars parked on both sides of the street as people are eating at the restaurant on the left. I follow the street around to this, where two Korean guys and I once spent a minute helping a driver navigate between lines of parked cars:

And this:

A couple of weeks ago, as I was walking home for lunch, I saw an SUV parked with its tail sticking out a little, in front of the left-hand building, leaving room for only one-way traffic; the guy in a black car going north wasn't going to back up, nor was the guy in the white car going south. Pretty soon the latter couldn't have backed up if he'd wanted to, as there was a line of cars behind him. The two guys just sat and sat and were still staring each other down as I turned the corner; I don't know how that one turned out, but apparently it was resolved somehow, as the cars aren't all still there.

Finally I turn right down the long homestretch to school, past the beer distributor and the garbage collection center, and make my way to school, which is all the way down the street on the left.

Let's see... three minutes to the main street, wait to cross, three minutes more to the school... what am I leaving out?

Hmm. There is a lot of traffic at lunchtime and rush hour and traffic jams, extending blocks in all directions, on the weekends, when everyone's going to Costco and E-Mart. I took these photos a month ago; now the streets are covered in slush and snow. Korean drivers are crazy, especially cabbies and delivery guys. Drivers here in general don't drive fast, but they don't leave space between vehicles, aren't slavish to the idea of traffic lanes, and don't like to yield.

A lot of pedestrians are pretty casual in their respect for cars; I've seen a group of a dozen men and women chatting, spread across that striped speed bump at the big intersection, several photos ago. I try to be careful and get well out of the way of traffic, especially after I got bumped in the calf by a car in Daegu. Even so, I've had cars come within a few inches of clipping my elbow with their mirrors.

Isn't Geritol supposed to help with that run-down feeling?

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