Alexis: Getting Around Chengdu Safely

The time to confront the unavoidable topic of how to stay safe in China’s roads has arrived.  It is no novelty to those who keep up with international news even in a minimal way that China’s roads are among the most dangerous in the world, claiming about 70,000 people per year and injuring an additional 300,000, according to an article published earlier this month (Manish Bapna, China Daily).  China has about 100 million vehicles roaming its roads, less than half of the registered vehicles in the United States, yet more than twice the amount of people are involved in fatal road accidents in China than in America (Colum Murphy, The Wall Street Journal).  So, if you’re going to be living in Chengdu—one of China’s biggest cities—you should exercise extreme caution and alertness while going from one place to another.

On major intersections (and on most others, to a lesser degree) you will find buses, cars, scooters, and people sometimes forcing their way through to the other side (Picture taken near Tianfu Square).

If you are traveling a reasonable distance and can take the subway, do it!  Using the two subway lines that run perpendicularly through Chengdu’s center—from North to South and From East to West—is undoubtedly the safest way to travel great distances within Chengdu.  If the subway doesn’t leave you within walking distance of the desired location, then taking the bus for the remainder of the journey might be the best option.  Most accidents in China occur on roadways and highways, so avoiding unnecessary exposure to the really crowded ones can reduce the possibilities of being involved in, or witnessing, an accident.

When faced with the option of taking the bus or a cab, the bus always wins.  The reason for this isn’t just because it is cheaper to take the bus.  Around Sichuan University—and most of central Chengdu—public buses are pretty much the kings and queens of the roads.  They are almost indisputably the biggest vehicles you will interact with during your stay.  If, God forbid, a collision or the like were to occur the bus will surely be the vehicle to sustain the least damage.  An important thing to remember is that this applies almost exclusively to transportation within developed cities like Chengdu.  In rural areas and crowded highways—where most lethal accidents take place—buses usually claim the highest amount of lives due to fatal collisions at high speeds with trucks or other heavy vehicles.                                                                                                                                                                                                      Some say that Chinese authorities spend more time responding to accidents than preventing them. Picture of an accident that took place on March 8th, 2013.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           IF YOU MUST WALK, REMEMBER THE FOLLOWING THINGS:

  2. Vehicles don’t yield to pedestrians!  The complete opposite is true.
  3. Vehicles don’t stop at a red light before making a right turn.  In fact, I’ve found that instead of reducing the speed they accelerate in order to cut the traffic coming perpendicularly.
  4. If you can, always follow the crowd when crossing an intersection.  It is the best way to avoid scary situations.
  5. Be extremely mindful of the scooters.  They will beep at you from behind to let you know that they are coming through—particularly on the sidewalks!  Don’t make any sudden moves or jumps—doing so means that they will possibly hit you.  So, be watchful for the innumerable scooters riding around.

Finally, even though you can get a bicycle to get to places—many people have them—I personally don’t recommend it.  Getting used to walking the streets of Chengdu can take time, and riding takes this to a completely different level.  If you think you got what it takes after a few weeks here, then you can buy a cheap bike.  Yet, if you don’t mind having to leave a few minutes earlier to get to class on time, then walking will also serve your good health.

Note: Pictures were taken by Professor David Orrick of Norwich University.

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