A taxi driver slams on his horn as if the sound alone will cause the pile of cars in front of him to move. A group of middle-aged women dressed in 90’s style parkas inch their way across the street, causing the turning cars to slam on their brakes. The gaggle of women don’t have a walk signal, but wherever they’re going is surely more important than everyone else. The crosswalk begin to pile up with people on both corners, who, as a group, slowly begin to make their way onto the street in anticipation of the light changing. This, however, causes the cars who have a ‘right on red’ to blare their horn to no effect - the group is immune to such noises. The light finally turns to a green man and the mob makes their way across the street as small, rickety vehicles whiz by in search of the addresses where they need to deliver their packages. Welcome to a weekday morning in Beijing.
The streets are loud, unnecessarily so. People are yelling, radios are on full blast, horns blare out, and the sound of electric scooters, old bicycles, and motorcycles only add to the cacophony. Winter is the worst because on top of the traffic congestion, everyone is wearing big hats, mittens, scarves, and thick coats, essentially rendering them immobile on their chosen means of transportation. Before they turn a corner, there is no turn signal nor glance of the eye to see if it’s clear. It’s like playing Frogger, but your not only the frog, but also one of the trucks who needs to watch out for other trucks.
Huge busses swerve in and out of traffic to pull up to the bus stop, packing in more people than they had ever anticipated when building these things. With no regard for oncoming traffic, the bus jolts back into traffic while taxis and other cars slam on their brakes. For as integral as the public bus system is in China, it’s odd that busses don’t have their own private lanes yet. There also seems to be a hierarchy on the road, and that hierarchy is based on size. Busses rule the roads, with cars coming in second, followed by package delivery vehicles, motorcycles, electric scooters, bicyclists, and last, the lowly pedestrian. If you don’t yield to whatever vehicle is bigger than yours, you’re going to get hurt, because they most certainly won’t yield to you.
The streets of Beijing are a unique beast, but with enough experience and practice, they too can be managed. Through trial & error, yelling at other pedestrians, and discerning looks from cars, figuring out how to navigate through Beijing is unquestionably one of the many learning curves this city presents, but certainly not the most challenging.