Driving (and being a Pedestrian) in New York vs Shanghai – Part 1

Adding Oil:

One of the more subtle differences between New York and Shanghai (which can be generalized to Western and Asian societies overall) is the relationship between motorists and pedestrians.

AddingOil’s perils as a pedestrian – to be fair, this is just illustrative as this photo actually wasn’t taken in China!

In the U.S., pedestrians are treated as the equivalent of an endangered species. They are to be protected at all costs (admittedly, this is probably related to being a highly litigious society), and at times coddled (which is very much the case on the West Coast). In fact, in many East Coast cities, such as NY and Boston, pedestrians can even have an arrogant demeanor, assuming right of way without regard to their physical safely. If you honk at them when they are not walking with the light, they’ll actually glare at you and act indignant!

In China, in sharp contrast, pedestrians are simply the lowest level in the food chain (i.e., plankton). The buses are the blue whales (everyone just gets out of their way), cars and small trucks are the great white sharks and killer whales (strong, quick, and deadly), and the bikes (either powered or pedaled) are schools of fish darting everywhere regardless of traffic laws. And all of them eat plankton.

It may seem counterintuitive, but beware the electric bikes! Personally, I think the electric bikes are most dangerous to pedestrians because they are near silent, don’t obey traffic conventions, and often go on the sidewalk. But then, I’ve seen cars drive on the sidewalk too.

I often tell people that the only real physical danger of bodily harm I experienced in a first tier city like Shanghai is crossing the street every day during my work commute. Infamously, it is economically better for a motorist to kill an pedestrian rather than maim them because of the medical bill liability. So there are many stories of Chinese drivers ensuring the pedestrian’s death rather than saving their life.

Even when I visited home to New York, I would still be ultra cautious (perhaps even paranoid) when crossing the street. I would eye every driver with suspicion, giving them right of way even when they didn’t have it – which admittedly caused some confusion.  I didn’t want to lose my edge. I saw way too many hit and run incidents in Shanghai.

So for everyone visiting China (and most of Asia ex-Japan), always remember to be paranoid crossing the street!






Let us know what you think and share your experiences!