There’s only one car on this eight lane road called Thalia Street. It’s always crowded and teeming. Your life is at risk just to walk across. I have seen so many folks hit by cars. Then, there are the ladies in black, who just step off the curb and leisurely pace across the road. All cars stop, some screeching. There’s an unwritten rule, it seems, where if you are covered to your ankles and you have a limited field of vision, a man in a speeding car will not strike you dead. I believe this also. But I’m a man and many would consider me not to believe my eyes.
Jeddah has a complete disdain and disregard for pedestrians. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it. The sidewalks are maintained but are not continuous. Let me rephrase. I see maintenance street cleaners in some places. In others there is chaos and trash. Construction debris or broken sidewalks are everywhere. Many places especially in front of strip malls are come as you are. Some have sidewalks.
Others allow you to park your car in the doorway. And the cars drive on the sidewalk when there is too much traffic. The only thing is that the street lamps obstruct the way so the cars must weave onto and off the sidewalk. So it will be no surprise that walking about has been a challenge. You don’t walk during the day. You will simply melt or fry. At night, it’s poor vision. I worry that the drivers are too old or too young to drive. Everyone speeds right up to the moment you have to slow to turn. They pretty much scream to a stop at the light. Tailgating is an art. And everyone changes lanes without signaling. My kids played “Frogger” (so did I). You are a frog trying to cross road and avoid getting killed by traffic. It’s the incessant little vapid jingle that comes to me every time I try to cross the street. Mostly there are no lights so you time your crossing, clutch your loose valuables (glasses, camera), and make a run for it. Where there are lights to cross, don’t trust the bastards, the drivers in both directions like to keep moving when the light is red. After all, green means ‘go’ and red means ‘go faster.’
Here is a series of images that give you an idea of the ‘rules of the road’ here in Jeddah. ‘No rules!’ Yes, we are moving. And yes it is a certain head on encounter. Like that old James Dean movie, who will chicken first?
I live and we turn off just past the tree on the left. No one waits. No one! So you move over into oncoming traffic and you make a new lane. You edge into the middle to let oncoming traffic get by. Or maybe you don’t.
Obviously we are out in the oncoming lane because we need to make a left turn. It all makes sense, right? I’m ok as long as I’m following someone else. I just don’t want to be the first to encounter an oncoming car. So, as the crowd goes, my driver does too. And that means he will even completely block oncoming traffic.
Which, I might add, the oncoming traffic really doesn’t slow, so that this is a slow motion disaster waiting to happen. Not to be too sexist, I keep telling myself that this is all men driving and therefore we will not have unplanned mayhem or random hysterical reaction to insane driving. White knuckle? You bet!
So just when you think you have seen it all, notice the red light. Notice the traffic lane barrier. See the car on the wrong side of the barrier headed in the wrong direction with oncoming traffic. Try to imagine how you get out of that mess. Folks are either very rude or very understanding. I will close by adding that a one way street sign (and there are many) is no impediment. And even on a busy one way multilane thoroughfare, it’s not a problem if you want to go the wrong way on the boulevard. The police stop some people randomly. But I am told they don’t chase. A high speed chase could result in more injuries (to the police) and so they don’t chase bad drivers.