Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Sharing the Road, India

As if taking a cue from the DHL signboard, everyone has begun to "move forward," regardless of those still clearing the intersection. The cyclist appears to be dead center, but is actually somewhat to the left of most of the traffic here, which is making a right turn. (Keep in mind that you drive on the left in India, not the right; a right turn crosses traffic.)

Cyclists have to contend with a lot of competition for road share: scooters, motorcycles, auto-rikshaws, cars, small trucks, large trucks, buses, cows. As I posted before, the space for bicycles is getting smaller. Low prestige. The shoulder-strap & package on the back suggest that this one is making a delivery, and likely, in the brutally honest argot of Indian offices, a "peon."

In the photo at the right, note the pecking order of vehicles waiting for a green signal: cars to the extreme right, then motorcycles and rikshaws, then bicycles. There are exceptions, of course (exceptions are the rule on India's roads), but the rule of thumb is that slower, smaller vehicles move to the edges. At lights, cyclists tend to creep around other vehicles to fill in nooks and crannies toward the front. As more vehicles congregate for a right turn, the turn "lane" expands to fit them, until turners block straight traffic.

What relevance does all this have for cyclists in the US? I'm not yet sure. But I'm sure there's a happy medium somewhere between the chaotic heterogeneity of Indian roads and the regimented monoculture of American roads.

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