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"It is the journey which makes up your life."

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Cairo Travel Tip #2: Crossing the Street.

Cairo street-crossing is actually quite simple once you accept a single fact: big metal things are going to come hurtling at you, and that's ok.

I've heard it said that traffic law in Cairo is really more like "traffic suggestion," and this really seems to be the case--lane markings are generally ignored, crosswalks don't actually mean anything, headlights and horns are reserved for asserting one's presence, and taxis frequently play this tuneless tinkly music that makes them sound like giant musical greeting cards on wheels.

Nonetheless, traffic does have some semblance of sanity once you become familiar with it. For instance, the lack of defined lanes gives the traffic flow more flexibility. This means that if you cross the street and the taxi hurtling at you has enough room, it will simply drive around you. Lack of lanes also means that drivers tend to be much more aware of what is going on around their vehicle than in other places. In fact, the incessant honking you'll hear in the streets is a not indiscriminate warning from the drivers to pedestrians and other drivers that they should get out of the way.

The basic method of safe street crossing is as follows: ignore intersections and "crosswalks" as places to cross streets. If possible, find a portion of the street that is double- or triple- parked on one or both sides, because the stream of traffic you'll have to cross will be much narrower. Once you've picked an ideal spot, wait until there is a break in the traffic. Any break will not be large, and might only be a break on one half of the traffic stream and not the other. In most Cairo streets, traffic is only one-way. This will make it easier, but if you happen to find yourself on a two-way street, expect to cross each half of the street separately.

When you see a break coming, start walking--don't wait until the break reaches you, because by then it will be too late to get all the way across. Begin by approaching the traffic stream one or two cars ahead of the break. Don't be afraid of getting within a foot or two of the car(s). As long as you're careful, you won't get hit. Once the car you've approached has passed, cross as quickly as necessary to get to the other side and find refuge in the parked up curb.

Bear in mind that there is generally a sort of unofficial "pedestrian lane" just inside the parked cars on either side of any street, as the actual sidewalks are either so crowded with people, debris, and random trees that it's usually less difficult to to simply walk in the street. Once you cross, you'll be safe as long as you're within a few feet of the nearest parked car.

Be alert, learn to walk fast, and cross under the subway when you attempt giant midans like al-Tahrir. That's it. Yay!

P.S. See picture 2 for good technique.


Blogger Ryan said...


6:35 PM

Blogger Kat said...

yanni eh?

10:43 PM

Blogger Kat said...

for future reference, yanni eh? is roughly the Egyptian equivalent to "uh, what?"

4:42 PM

Blogger Ryan said...

Ah, sorry. See, your description of driving conditions and street crossing techniques are similar to those in Russia. I guess I got a little overexcited.

4:12 AM

Blogger Kat said...

Do Russian taxis play xmas carols whenever their brake lights go on?? :D

9:12 AM

Anonymous Grandma and Grandpa Chew said...

Hi, Kit Chew

Love, Grandma and Grandpa

10:14 AM


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