India Traffic


From the moment I hit Chicago in 1956, and saw a woman on crutches crossing against a red light, I've relished free-for-all traffic.  Then New York in 1967 upped the ante a bit

But pedestrian and motor traffic in Mumbai and other Indian cities seems like the ultimate in traffic complexity and challenge

In New York, when two cars are vying for position, as in lane merging, there's a moment at which the front fender of one car edges out that of the other.  When that moment comes is usually negotiated and settled fairly early on (though it may not seem so at the time)

In India, that moment gets delayed until the very last possible nanosecond, requiring inordinate attention on the part of each participant




Here's a mild case, an intersection in Agra

First, recognize that in India you drive on the left side of the road

But notice here the several directions in which vehicles are trying to move




And the multiplicity of participants--pedestrians, human-powered vehicles, motor cars and buses

All pretty much unregulated



The sense you get is that the only rule is that there are no rules

India has very few traffic lights, very few traffic policemen, very few traffic-regulating signs (few, that is, relative to the size of the country and its population)






Each participant pressing for advantage



Size Matters

Might makes right of way


In Varanasi I needed to go from my guest house to an intersection a few kilometers away.  A man offered to take me on his motor bike.

Hop on the back with me



We launch into traffic



And he starts looking for a way to open up a hole and move ahead

He does this aggressively



Notice how much attention he has to pay to his various adversaries, the close tolerances

One moment of inattention, and someone will pay dearly



On the return trip we enter narrow alleys to approach the guest house

Motorbikes routinely storm up these passageways with careful abandon




He negotiates with an approaching procession



But pushes for every advantage he can get




Now come with me on an inter-city bus, in the south of India


Here we're passing through a town, seeing the typical mix of traffic, with the bus aggressively moving forward 



On the open road, going perhaps 50mph/75kph, the bus will coopt the center line, routinely passing between cars going each direction



Smaller vehicles, the 2- and 3-wheelers, will have no choice but to accommodate to the bus



In this case the bus did not yield the center area, and the oncoming black car continued to pass the 2-wheelers

Acceptable practice



One particularly aggressive bus driver was on the route from Kannur (Kerala) to Mangalore

Here we're again going perhaps 50mph/75kph, and he stays in the center, backing off only if absolutely necessary



He'll continue to wedge between traffic going both directions



Cars understand that mass is might, and the 2-wheelers take what they can get--which is last position, unless there are bicycles

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