In Cuba, Jaywalking Pedestrians And Speeding Drivers Struggle To Co-Exist

Illustration for article titled In Cuba, Jaywalking Pedestrians And Speeding Drivers Struggle To Co-Exist

This is still a car site, but let’s talk about pedestrians for a bit.

Jaywalking is something I have mixed feelings about. If you’re going to do it, you cannot expect a car to stop for you in the middle of the street. But people do it when the traffic is clear and no one is in immediate danger of injury.

Maybe it’s a regional thing, but I grew up stopping, looking and listening before I crossed the street. I paid attention to the “Walk” man on the stoplight. Maybe it’s because where I grew up the police had so little to do they once gave the mayor a citation for jaywalking.

It’s something I never ever attempted in Havana when I studied there for a month last year. If I was going to stand in the street to take pictures of cars, I made sure no moving vehicles were in sight. People drive quickly. If you think cab drivers are aggressive in this country, you should get in the back of a Lada in Havana driven by someone who thinks red lights and stop signs are suggestions only.

Actually, in a Lada this is probably fine because even though they are tough, pointy things, they have the power of a dying KitchenAid mixer. But with the introduction of more powerful modern vehicles and the increasingly viable proposition of car ownership in Cuba, there’s a long way to go to redoing some lax traffic habits.

The Associated Press’ Peter Orsi recently covered the jaywalking epidemic in the country and the growing problem it poses for pedestrians and drivers. I can attest that people drive far too quickly around narrow streets with blind corners as pedestrians cross the street without looking. One second, there’s nothing and the next there’s a Peugeot 205 blowing past you.

Right in front of the University of Havana is one of the busiest streets in Havana and it’s a narrow piece of road that I think I’m right in saying has two lanes. But drivers find ways to make it three lanes during rush hour. People will get in and out of cars in the middle of the street. I never saw someone get hit, but there were plenty of near-misses because drivers really don’t stop that much. Orsi compared it to a real-life game of Frogger, but Cubans call it "bullfighting with cars." That really is a perfect description.

It’s not just a problem in Cuba but also in a lot of other dense cities where cars weren’t planned into the road systems from the get-go. It is a two-way street, though, between pedestrians and drivers to keep things running safely. That’s the point Cubans are raising about campaigns telling pedestrians to use crosswalks and stop being socially defiant. Their point is valid: What about the drivers leaving their brights on at night so they blind people crossing the street, or the lousy roads and signage? Auto-stop pedestrian detection systems and pedestrian airbags aren't going to fix those problems.

I don't know what's going to happen in Cuba, but what are some of the fixes in your neighborhoods where changes could be made simply and quickly? As much fun as "bullfighting with cars" sounds, something like that is bound to go wrong. And they make Frogger for iPhone now.

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I don't think there should be any laws against jay walking, and as long as an accident report shows that the driver made and effort to avoid hitting someone, he shouldn't be held accountable. One of those "you know the risks" deals. If you are more concerned with getting across quickly rather than safely, I don't see how it's anyone's fault but your own.