It’s easy to take for granted the dependability and generally law-abiding nature of Lincoln motorists, excepting of course the (lack of) use of turn signals. Here in China if there’s dependability, it’s that when a motorist, or anyone, sees an opportunity to get ahead, they’ll likely take it. Queuing up is not second nature here. That message was brought home yesterday when we accepted the offer of an outing to Xiangcheng to see Yuan Shikai’s home town museum. Yuan Shikai was general-turned-emperor for 100 days at the end of the Qing dynasty. Xiangcheng is just up the levee road past the bridge where I normally turn around, and I tried to ride there last week, but bailed out on the levee road and took hard surface back at the bridge due to excessive mud from melting snow.
We were supposed to set out at 9:00, but because of the densest fog (plus smog) I’ve ever seen in Zhoukou, we waited and finally left at 10:30, as it was just getting worse. The conditions meant that the expressway was closed and all the expressway traffic was dumped onto the local highway through the small towns together with local traffic. A trip that should have taken 30 minutes took 2 ½ hours. I’m confident I could have ridden there on my bike in that time frame. So what was the cause of the grid lock? Motorists jockeying for position completely filled the two-lane highway and narrow shoulders five across going the same direction. Our hosts on the outing, civil engineers, called 110 (Chinese for 911) to try to get it sorted out. When we finally got to a crossroad we discovered that the opposing traffic had done the same thing on the other side.
I think that explains a lot about traffic interaction here, with regulations interpreted as suggestions meant for other people. No one is as brazen though as the scooter operator, especially of the three-wheeled variety. They were not a part of the mess yesterday, they could just squeeze around it, but the motorists were acting as if they were driving one.
It wasn’t long ago that scooters ruled the road and their habits haven’t changed much. They don’t require a license or a minimum age as far as I can tell. They aren’t the real problem though, they’re slow and don’t take up much room. It’s the motorists. Along with taking up more space, they seem to feel entitled. Proper inter-modal relations should mean that motorists cede the way to scooters and bikes, and scooters and bikes cede to pedestrians. It doesn’t seem that motorists here got that memo. They lay on the horn to clear their path because they’re coming through. Buses and trucks do this the most, with a general “might makes right” attitude. What helps though is that at least the motorists expect to see scooters and bikes so it is not a surprise when they do. In that regard they are ahead of drivers in Lincoln. They just get carried away with honking at everyone else, moving or not, to the point of harassment. I think that these problems are all just growing pains though. Eventually I hope that motorists learn to stay in their lane. That will make life on the road easier for everyone.