Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?
Subtitled : “Why I will wait at least another week before I try my hand at driving.”
One of the things I found really interesting on my first visit to Marrakech was the traffic. Well, let’s back up a minute. My first introduction to Morocco was in Casablanca. Big city, business and industry and the most insane traffic I have ever seen.
So I have been a keen observer of traffic since my first day here. But now that I am part of this great “red city” I have made it my mission to learn how to cross the street. Call it Darwinism, a desire to live another day, call it crazy if you must. If you can’t cross the street, you just have to go home.
Last time I was here I was with Laura and that gave us four eyes and two simultaneous directions to observe.
Four ears with which to listen for danger.
Twice the will to survive.
I didn’t really pay attention to method per se. More just results. We lived to see another day so it all worked out.
But now I’m alone. And poorly insured. And not near a series of world class hospital facilities or an air ambulance service. So I am more interested than ever in making it work. In case, you know, one day = drunk. Or sleepy. Or maybe I want to drive around some day.
I need to understand what is happening inside the minds of my fellow road warriors. Know what I’m dealing with. What are the unspoken rules and informal societal norms. All those things. Yeah.
I learned immediately in Casa that traffic circles are a recipe for disaster.
You see they have three lanes, generally, that ring the circle. There are any number of streets that feed into them.
There are cars, buses, motor bikes, scooters and pedestrians. So what’s the issue?
Everyone just stays in their lane until they clear the circle – done.
Yeah no. Welcome to Morocco where three lanes of traffic around a circle is read as one straight line, generally closest to the centre, everybody go there, NOW.
So it starts out as three lanes, becomes one lane and then I honestly don’t know how it works out on the other side because my eyes are usually closed at that point. Yesterday I watched closely as Khalid entered a really big traffic circle. It was a matter of waiting, inching forward, waiting, looking, go, NO stop, inch forward, wait. We got in, went down to one lane and (eyes closed).
I have also observed that left turns are a bunched up free for all. First, they habitually proceed much farther past the intersection than we do in North America. So the 90 degree turn becomes more of a 50 degree turn.
And they don’t line up one behind the other, but rather turn in and line up one BESIDE the other. See exhibit one below. All three cars are turning left, and when it opens up, all three will proceed AT THE SAME TIME. (Eyes closed, I have no idea what happens next).
Yesterday while we were standing at a major intersection, an ambulance sounded its horn and everyone stopped (like that ever happens at home), and by the time it had passed I counted seven (7) cars all lined up side by side like a dealership. I was too slow on the camera and I’m kicking myself. It was hilarious.
Now the traffic lights are another thing. Someone forgot to tell them where to put them so they made a choice. All the traffic lights are in line with the first car stopped, on THIS side of the intersection instead of where we have them on the other side for all to see.
This creates two distinct issues.
First, as a pedestrian you do not have the benefit of seeing the same light as the stopped drivers. That is a significant disadvantage as you can image. You are the little guy, on foot, sans protection, and there is no way to know what colour the light is when you stand at the corner because its beside you facing the other way.
The other challenge is that the first row of cars that have stopped can not see the light. Seriously, you can not see it.
We stopped right beside one on the way from the airport and I asked my friend Jamal – “How the hell do you know when to proceed? How do you know when the light changes?” He pointed out his passenger window and laughed and said “I can see it”. Well sure but you aren’t the driver and if the driver doesn’t have a passenger……
We took a taxi in October and I mentioned this confusion to the driver. He responded by getting very excited and said he had recently seen a western movie (not to be confused with a “western”) and noticed the traffic lights on the other side of the intersection in plain view. “What a smart idea,” he said. Well. Um. Yeah.
Also, no street signs. None. Ok one maybe. Two at best. There is no way to know what street you at or turning onto. And the big ones are all named after King’s so you really need to know your Mohamed’s from your Hassan’s. Crazy.
So here are some of the methods I employ to get across the street. Every city has their thing. Some places do not like jay walking and are very strict. In New York I found you just have to keep up to the running pace of pedestrians and as soon as the cars clear GO, run run.
Here, several methods can be used. They include:
- Look for a light. Sometimes if you are lucky there is a pedestrian light that shows walk/don’t walk. Handy but only available sometimes.
- Make eye contact with a driver and nod with a questioning look on your face. If you are lucky you will receive a very slight nod to indicate “Yes crazy western woman, you can go but go quickly without delay”
- You can wait until other people show up to cross as well, then go with them because “safety in numbers”. I do this a lot. In a lot of cities.
- You can wait for a few cycles of the light and get a feel for the pattern. When traffic is against you can then see when traffic is with you if you just calm down and wait.
- If you are walking with Mustapha you can observe the very slight hand movement, down where hands belong, and catch a slight wave “come come now”, or a wee light stop motion. Or a little back to the left or go to the right. I’m not sure if he knows that he does it and is helping me or if its involuntary but its effective none the less.
- You can just go. Frogger style. Go. Stop. Back up. Go.Wait. Go go. Also quite effective but not to be tried at night.
So there you have it. Lessons on crossing the street. Don’t say I never taught you anything.