Traffic right-of-way: China vs. Canada

This is our second time coming back to Canada after extended time in China. This time (unlike the first time), slipping back into driving and biking has been easy. I haven’t messed up traffic patterns yet like last time, even though I’ve been biking to work and driving other places for a month now. But one aspect of Canadian — or at least suburban greater Vancouver — that has really stood out to me this time is right-of-way, particularly crosswalks.

Right of way in Tianjin, China is simple:

  1. If you are in the way, you have right of way. Lights and crosswalks are basically decorations.*
  2. Size + speed + honking = in the way, even if you’re technically just on the way.

But in Canada, if you’re in the crosswalk, you’re golden. You’re king of the road. Your apparently inviolable right of way extends as far as the crosswalk stripes. You can take your sweet time. I’ve even had drivers wanting to turn right stop and wait because they saw me approaching the crosswalk. I have to wave and smile every time; I can’t get over it. I’ve yet to get honked at, and I don’t know what it would take: maybe sit down in the middle and start texting?

Anyway, that’s probably the first big impression I’ve had this time coming back (aside from the air, trees, mountains, friendliness, cleanliness, orderliness, tastiness, safety-ness, expensiveness, and extreme-to-the-point-of-unconscious-Orwellian-levels-of-hypocrisy political correctness). And the handicapped stuff. There’s way more accommodation here. The buses lower on hydraulics so elderly and physically disabled people can step up, and if that’s not good enough a ramp folds out! Crazy.

*(P.S. – I should note that this seems to be changing. I’ve seen traffic both improve dramatically and devolve noticeably during our years in Tianjin. So when in doubt, follow the locals, if you dare.)

Related reverse-culture stress and comparative traffic stuff:

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