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China Daily Website

Pedestrians see red at road crossings

Updated: 2012-10-27 20:47
( Xinhua)

BEIJING - China's cyber community has never been short of buzz words. The latest one is "Chinese style road crossing", which means large crowds of people crossing during red lights.

The term has left many to self-reflect on people's disrespect for rules, while others, have complained about pedestrians' limited right of way.

The buzz started after an Internet user posted a comment on China's twitter-like microblog Sina Weibo saying "Chinese style road crossing is crossing the road with a disregard to traffic lights, as long as a crowd of people are going with you."

The post soon triggered discussions online, as well as in traditional media.

A news program by China Central Television (CCTV) broadcasted a video showing more than 600 pedestrians running red lights when crossing a road in the space of one hour at an intersection in Shijiazhuang city, Hebei Province.

Some accused Chinese people of lacking a rule-abiding spirit, especially the deep-rooted belief that the law will not punish numerous offenders.

"An individual will feel emboldened when being one of a group of offenders," said microblogger "qqmac321", "They would even shrug off punishment."

Apart from the herd mentality, characteristics of Chinese people were brought to the center stage, with soul-searching going as deep as arguing why Chinese people are always in a rush.

Some comparisons were also made between foreigners and the Chinese. Many Chinese netizens living abroad said running red lights was common in other countries.

However, some people called for more tolerance toward jaywalking because pedestrians do not enjoy much right of way.

"Jaywalkers indeed deserve some reflection, but we should bring traffic authorities in if we want to solve the problem. Have they considered the time span of a red light or do they notice the imperfection in road infrastructures?" said one netizen called "xiyulanyangyang".

Roads in big cities have left pedestrians with two options. Wait for a long time or take the risk of running to the other side, wrote "Marvin" on his microblog.

This argument got support from a research team, which said there was a correlation between jaywalking and the time span of a red light.

Ni Ying, member of the research team with the School of Transportation Engineering of Shanghai-based Tongji University said, "The waiting time in front of a traffic light can affect pedestrians' behavior. They are more likely to ignore the light when the waiting time lasts longer than they can bear."

Ni's team conducted research on pedestrians' waiting time at road crossings from 2008 to 2010.

Their study listed Chinese people as "very patient" as they can wait upto 90 seconds, compared with 45 seconds for Britons and 60 seconds for Germans. However, many red lights' time span extended over 90 seconds.

Ni said the design of traffic lights in China was more friendly to automobiles, thus giving rise to pedestrians breaking rules.

Internet users complained at other aspects.

Microblogger "wuterfree" said pedestrians have to shun those whimsically-turning vehicles when crossing the road, as they would not make it across in such a short time if they waited for the green light.

Zhang Yiwu, popular commentator and professor with Peking University, said, "Chinese style road crossing is a group behavior, including not only pedestrians, but also car drivers and road management authorities. It is hard to identify which is to blame."

Xia Xueluan, sociology professor with Peking University, said the self-mocking style of public discussions help highlight hidden problems or phenomenon that are taken granted.