A zebra-crossing musing
Around 1.25mn people die every year on the world’s roads. According to UN, speed is the cause of about one-third of all fatal road traffic crashes in high-income countries, and almost half in low- and middle-income countries in the world.
When I first visited Europe a few years back, my first impression of Europe was that most people (old and young) cycled and walked a lot. Perhaps, because they have the safest road, neat bicycle lane and spacious walking lane. What is more, no matter how fast a car moves, when it nears a zebra-crossing, it slows down (as if in a trance or under some spell) and the pedestrians walk to the other side, almost blissfully. On the contrary, in Bhutan we need traffic police to ensure vehicles slow down near a zebra-crossing and let the pedestrians cross by. It is almost baffling why we Bhutanese seem always in an eternal hurry on the road. A little pause in a car movement-- rest of the cars behind start to honk, agitatedly. Unless you are going to save the world by reaching your destination few minutes early, there is no point in risking your life and others by over-speeding on the road. Anyway (on normal days) most of us are rushing home only to sit back and watch TV. Zebra-crossing is fairly a new phenomenon to our traffics. As a pedestrian, I appreciate the time and the hard work the authorities have invested in awareness campaigns. Today we have about 70 zebra-crossings on the roads within Thimphu city, and assigning cops at each zebra-crossing is such a hard slog. I hope this doesn’t have to go on forever. One Saturday evening as I went for a leisure walk, I stopped near a zebra-crossing to let a lone scooter pass by. The man on the scooter stopped too. I gestured him to go. But he insisted (with a smile) I cross the road first. The road was empty anyway. So, I took my own sweet time to reach the other side. He seemed equally relaxed and pleased. However, not every crossing is this sweet and polite. A friend told me that recently a speeding car almost hit her while she was still walking on the zebra-crossing. Once I saw three dogs cross the road together via a zebra-crossing in the town, and a group of tourists looked amused, adding to our happiness index for the outsiders. Yet (the irony) most of our homies still need to be trained. If animals follow the rules, I am very optimistic (someday) we will too.