Monday, February 16, 2009

Gangnam Cross-walk Dangers

I’ve witnessed three people get hit by some form of transportation at an intersection near my house. I saw one girl get nailed by a bus and fly about five feet before going into shock while people walked around her trying to avoid the situation. I've also seen two men get hit by cars. One of them was seriously hurt and I honestly don't know if he recovered. They’ve all taken place at the main crosswalk near Gangnam Station which also happens to be on one of the busier streets in Seoul for both vehicles and pedestrians. Both my wife and I have to cross there several times a day and I, too, have gotten close to being hit there as well. The whole intersection is a potential deathtrap.

This is the basic layout of the crosswalk.

First, you’ll notice that the cross-walk is split into two parts with one side being much longer than the other. This becomes important when considering peoples’ perception that they can cross the entire road at once. I’ve seen so many people make it across the small section before trotting out onto the big one only to get caught in the middle by honking cars, threatening buses and impatient bikes. The same goes for crossing in the opposite direction. They cross the long one first and assume the short one will only take a second. Well, Korean drivers don’t have a second. They’ve already started running the light.

The middle section is the bus stop and, in my opinion, causes the most accidents.

As you can see, the buses are stopping on the opposite side of the road because of the door location. When people exit these buses, it’s normal to assume that traffic on that side would be going in the same direction as the bus that you just exited was. Even if they have gotten off at that stop everyday for a year, the sensation doesn’t change. Just look at that guy behind the bus in the front. He's asking for it. That's where I saw the girl get hit.

Apparently, officials have become aware of this danger zone and they have started to make a few adjustments. They added a timer at the cross-walk and a few more crossing guards for the evening rush.

The problem is the Korean approach to driving and life. Korean’s love to use the term “빨리, 빨리" (quickly, hurry, etc...) The peninsula is full of people who live by this. I’ll address this issue in detail in an upcoming post, but for the intent of this one, let’s just say that Korean drivers will do anything to get to their destination faster. Those of who live here see it all the time. They’re running lights, driving on sidewalks, pushing people in the subways, anything to get somewhere faster. (Oddly, I happen to think that a lot of Koreans are usually late and unproductive.)

The Republic of Korea even tops a few lists as being the most dangerous.

According to the 2007 OECD International Road Traffic and Accident Database
announced by Green City Research Institute, 5.28 per 100,000 Korean pedestrians
died in traffic accidents in 2005, placing the country in first place. Korea
also topped the category in 2004, with 6.0 pedestrians per 100,000. As for the
number of deaths in traffic accidents per 10,000 cars, Korea took second place
with 3.45 people, following Hungary with 3.79.

How far ahead (or behind) are they?

Considering that the OECD member countries' average number of pedestrians' death in traffic accidents marked 1.58 per 100,000 and the number of accidental deaths per 10,000 cars marked 1.68, South Korea has still a long way to go to become an advanced country in terms of traffic safety.

I totally agree that they have a long way to go, but sadly this issue gets thrown into the "You don't understand Korean culture / We're“빨리, 빨리 Koreans" excuse when questioned about this problem.

As I've said before, I'm counting down the days until I sell the motorcycle and hopefully, I'll survive the daily walk across the street so I can have that oppurtunity.