Inspired by an e-mail from an American in Bangladesh, Dr. Gridlock recently asked you folks to share your transportation memories from abroad and what we might adopt here. What a rich collection of responses. Here are some:
From Mark Krikorian, District of Columbia:
I was a student in what was then Soviet Armenia in the mid-1980s. I loved every minute, but it wasn't somewhere you'd want to drive--lanes were optional, the traffic police were crooked, and you had to keep your windshield wipers locked in the trunk so they wouldn't be stolen.
But there was one practice we should adopt. On the side of the busy road between Yerevan, the capital, and Etchmiadzin, the home base of the Church, there was a raised platform featuring the result of the latest crash.
The cars, mangled almost beyond recognition, would change frequently, since there were lots of accidents. The theory appeared to be that the sight of the wrecks would persuade at least a few people to slow down.
From David Colvin, District of Columbia:
When a fender bender occurs in Cairo (and they occur at an alarming rate), the drivers usually jump out, scream at each other with the type of insults that only a language as rich as Arabic can produce (such as, "May God destroy your house!"), and then return to their cars and carry on.
One other story: One night on our way to a nightclub in Bujumbura, Burundi, my brother and I found our drive blocked by a pair of hippos in the road. This particular road was located near Lake Tanganyika, and at night the hippos come on shore to eat. Needless to say, we yielded to superior tonnage.
From Helen Usdin, District of Columbia:
I grew up in Russia, where mud flaps are standard on every car, regardless of make or model. Here, in the rain and snow, you get dirty water splashed on your window from the tires of other vehicles. You can hardly see anything, and you have to slow down.
Wouldn't it help traffic flow if everyone had mud flaps, like the Russians?
From Doug Taphouse, Fairfax:
A number of years ago I was driving through Tehran and came across an astonishing sight: two small motorcycles driving next to each other, each with a driver and a passenger, the passengers carefully (and desperately) clutching at an upright piano that was balanced precariously between them.
They were moving along at a pretty good clip through typically chaotic Iranian traffic. I would loved to have seen them try to negotiate a turn, but, unfortunately, we were going in the other direction.
From Fil Feit, Annandale:
When I was in Munich I noticed that the traffic lights would blink yellow before turning green. I asked a local why, and he said it was to allow drivers waiting at the light to shift into gear.
By the time the light turned green, everybody was ready and not a second of green was wasted.
From Jeanne C. Nash, Oakton:
While traveling in Canada I learned they have a law that all cars manufactured and sold in Canada must have the headlights wired to the ignition, so when the engine is running, the lights are on.
This would be much more effective than our law requiring the headlights to be on when the windshield wipers are used. They would be on all the time the car is in use, and you could get rid of that law. Doesn't this make sense?
From Robert B. Zuehlke, Vienna:
An interesting feature of Bangkok traffic jams is the motorcycles weaving their way among stopped cars. You grit your teeth just waiting to hear the scrape of handle bars along your paint, but that rarely happens. When a major light changes, scores of cycles race forward like a mad, motocross race, spitting clouds of black smoke for the cars to enter.
From Peter Laine, Fairfax:
Things I liked from abroad:
1. Mandatory ignition turnoff for vehicles stopped at city traffic signals--to ease pollution (Switzerland);
2. Traffic lights that have the green blink slowly three times before changing to yellow (Austria).
From George A. Tralka, Vienna:
While in Curitiba, Brazil last year, I noticed speed bumps everywhere, and they work. Curitiba is about the size of the D.C. area. The speed bumps slowed down buses, autos and trucks without any noticeable disruption of traffic.
We should have more of them here.
From Bruce K. Nivens, Clifton:
In downtown Seoul, lane markings are observed until a certain level of congestion occurs, and then drivers begin filling in the gaps. During rush hour it was normal to see four to five lanes of cars driving abreast on a road marked for three lanes. I saw cars so close that their mirrors were touching.
Don't get me wrong, though. Even with all this the Koreans were very competent drivers. The prevailing attitude on the road was "We're all in this together. I've got to get where I'm going, and so do you."
From Tom Mills, Springfield:
In Japan, drivers will switch to parking lights (versus just keeping their headlights on) at stop lights. I thought that was extremely considerate--all too often we can be blinded by the person on the opposite side of the light who has their bright lights on.
From Christopher Turk, McLean:
In the United Kingdom and Ireland, they have "roundabouts," or traffic circles. They were created to avoid having an intersection, and they have few traffic lights. They keep traffic flowing, with those wanting to enter yielding to those already in the circle.
Here we have Dupont Circle, Thomas Circle, etc., that have numerous traffic lights. They constrict, rather than promote, traffic flow. Have you ever tried driving around Dupont Circle? It takes forever with all the unsynchronized lights. Why bother with circles if we don't use them properly?
From Marilyn Harriman, Springfield:
You asked, what does a foreign driving culture have that we don't have, but should adopt? I recently lived in Germany and really miss:
1. Sidewalks along both sides of nearly all roads. I could walk to and from my house without ever fearing for my life. Not so here. Sidewalks on two- and four-lane roads are hit and miss. Mostly miss.
2. Strict adherence to the rule that the pedestrian has the right-of-way on a crosswalk. In Germany cars stay stopped until pedestrians are all the way across the crosswalks. Here, I'm amazed how cars zoom right up to and even into crosswalks. Pedestrian rights here are not respected.
3. Adherence to red lights. In Germany, when a light turns red, this means those who have the green light can safely go. What a concept! The cameras posted at intersections catching red-light runners certainly help. We need to adopt such cameras on more than an experimental basis.
Dr. Gridlock's assistant, Jessica Medinger, contributed to this column.
Dr. Gridlock appears Monday in the Metro section and on Wednesday and Thursday in the Weekly and Extra sections. You can write to Dr. Gridlock, P.O. Box 3467, Fairfax, Va. 22038-3467, or e-mail him at email@example.com. The doctor's fax number is 703-352-3908. Please include your full name, address and day and evening phone numbers.