Thursday, September 24, 2009
Left On Red? Nah, Just Kidding, There Are No Reds
Congratulations, Buenos Aires! You've done it again. Another significant title has been awarded to you. Previous honors include the "Paris of South America," "Most Metropolitan City in the Continent", and "Beef Capital of the World." Well, on behalf of, me, I'm giving this great city another crowning title. Are you ready? Ahem...
Buenos Aires is the most dangerous city in the world for pedestrians. Yeah, I said it. Sorry, Porteños. Cry your hearts out, but it's just true. I'll say it again. Buenos Aires Is The Most Dangerous City In The World For Pedestrians. I am basing this off of the cities that I have visited and lived in, of course. I will always leave the door open for a new contender. But for now, after the many horizons I have crossed, I am set on a current champion. Let's discuss how the judges came to the final decision.
As the title suggests, there are no such things as red lights. Sure, they technically exist, and are even obeyed from time to time, but in terms of safety for the person crossing the street, there is none. You wait your turn patiently on the sidewalk because you know how crazy the drivers are, and finally the little man turns from orange to white, telling you and the 30 other people to start crossing the street. But there should be a "Walk With Extreme Caution" sign underneath.
As soon as you make the leap of faith, no less than 5 cars will turn right into you, as if you're the jerk crossing traffic at the wrong time. They slow down but don't exactly give you right of way, nudging you to hurry the hell up or become a stat. They call this place the "Paris of South America," and sometimes it feels like that. You stand waiting for the light to change and you hear the ever familiar sounds of a siren. WEE-YOOO WEE-YOUU WEE-YOUU. That kind of siren, reminiscent of a Parisian horn, is probably on the way to pick up someone who just got flattened.
Down in these parts, they claim that Avenida 9 de julio is the widest street in the world, though others say not quite. That doesn't matter, as it's still a huge street, and when all is said and done, you've just crossed about 17 lanes of traffic. I cross that street no less than two times a day, and each time I wonder if I'll make it to the other side. A game of Frogger is only fun when you can hit Restart. There's just no rhyme or reason to the road laws here in Argentina. How can it be that cars continue to drive as hordes of people cross the street? There has to be a traffic cop out there stuffing his face with an alfajor, not paying attention.
But to make matters worse, the sidewalks aren't exactly a safe haven either. If you have managed to dodge the ubiquitous pile of dog crap, successfully avoided the umpteenth pothole, and swerved around the people walking erratically, then you'll sometimes find yourself fleeing motorcycles. Because sometimes it just saves a bike rider time to hop onto the sidewalk, whether or not it's filled with people. It's like the last day of high school when kids are doing donuts in the parking lot and because everyone is going crazy, the cops can't even control the situation, so they just sit back and make sure no one kills themselves. Just total lawlessness.
I have the fear. On the streets, I'm not so much worried about getting mugged as I am being clipped by a car or motorcycle. In Ecuador, I thought I saw some of the worst drivers. Crossing the streets in Quito was once a scary situation. Now, looking back, that seems like a walk in the park. There's no way to avoid walking long distances in this city, crossing many streets in the process where drivers pay no heed to the people in their way. You just have to continue dodging traffic as best you can. So I'm sorry, Buenos Aires, but as cool as you are, you get this dirty honor.
Above: Avenida 9 de julio, the widest street in the world?