One of my favourite activities on my trip to Basel was spending the evenings after work just walking those beautiful, spotlessly clean, eerily quiet streets. It was on one of those first evening walks that I came across this street.
Traffic was always sparse and a co-worker had introduced me to the system where at certain junctions pedestrians who wished to cross pressed a button and some kind of system managed the signals such that you could safely cross when indicated by the sign. On this evening I was walking as I usually do, at a slow pace, looking around everywhere, absorbing everything that was around me. I had reached this particular street, which didn’t have any signal. I noticed a car coming towards me as I was about to cross. So as I am won’t to always do back home I stopped and waited for the car to pass.
I was listening to music and looking somewhere else. So it took a few seconds for it to register that the car hadn’t yet passed. When I looked back at it the driver had stopped at the crossing and was gesturing for me to cross first. As I crossed and looked back to see the car continue on, I thanked this kind gentleman in my mind. As I made more walking trips through the city I came to realize that this wasn’t the gesture of one person but that it was the way things were, pedestrains always had the first priority. So I could walk blind across roads if I wanted to.
Which made me think about how things were back home. If I tried anything like this back home I’d be kissing the pavement within minutes. Crossing the roads can be quite an ordeal, not just at a normal road but even at junctions with fully functioning signals. Often times you either wait until there is no traffic in sight or then your gesturing frantically with the palm of your hand for the vehicle to slow down so that you can pass. Vehicles always seem to be on a mission to get somewhere fast with no regard to pedestrians or even other vehicles first.
I have pondered often about this contrast in behavior. Could it be said definitively, that there is more value for human life in these countries? Is it a direct result of them having a population a fraction of ours. Considering just this scenario would it be impractical for the automobiles in India to stop for every person that wants to cross. Or are we as a nation completely apathetic towards human life. I wonder.
The important thing is that I learnt from the simple gesture of these folks and wherever it is practical I slow down and let pedestrians cross, where previously I would have been honking away.