Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Traffic in Buenos Aires (English version)

Since childhood I heard and read jokes about two things in Argentina: football and driving. Being absolutely unaware what football is about I obviously cannot judge the state of the football fever in this country. Probably, it is present: the second question all taxi drivers ask is “do you like football” (after the obvious first question “where are you from”) and all kiosks for tourists are full or football T-shirts and various football trinkets – I assume, there is a demand for it. They love even Australian rugby league which I cannot comprehend at all. But – well – I never understood anything about people who put all their energy in chasing a ball (of any size and shape)…
What about driving… it is peculiar. Not as scary as I imagined, but nonetheless it is an emotional experience. There is some order on the streets (not as much as in Australia, but there is …) – just it is a liberal order. It is a sort of a charade for everybody involved: pedestrians and drivers alike. Cars turn any way from any line (there is no marking on cross roads who turns were and from which line) – it makes it “interesting”, because other drivers and pedestrians have to guess who drives in which direction. The driving is slow due to constant congestions on the streets and due to a courtesy of drivers: I have “guessed wrong” a couple of times and stack in the middle of the busy traffic, but all drivers were understanding, smiling, there were no abusive comments and gestures even if I was definitely guilty. It does not mean that streets in Buenos Aires are safe, especially on big “avenidas” with heavy traffic.

“Liberal” regulations on the streets are potentially dangerous. In a first few days here we witnessed 2 road accidents: both involved motorcycle riders and both were caused by the chaotic attempts of drivers to overtake each other and to “cut corners” (across traffic) and motorcyclists are the least visible as we all know and they get knocked down frequently. The guilty drivers did not stop to help in neither case, but policemen and ambulance were efficient and reacted immediately. In the first accident the event occurred right in front of a policeman and medical help was available literally a few seconds after the accident: paramedics appeared from a thin air. As we learnt from our friends living here Buenos Aires is a city of the highest fatalities on the roads in the world. It is a sad record, but I believe it can be correct.

There are many old cars which would not be allowed on the road in many countries, but they are common on the streets of Buenos Aires. Sit belts were introduced to Argentina very recently and only for the front. Every time when I sit in a car here I feel uncomfortable because there is nothing to buckle up. Another problem connected to those old cars is pollution. They are the major source of pollution as – according to our friends – there are no industries around here to cause the problem.

After saying it all I have to add that there is something very good about transport here: the public service is excellent is excellent and many rich countries could learn a lot here. The same applies to many countries looked upon by Australia, USA or alike. I observed excellent and very affordable transport in China, much better than Australia. Subway is the fastest and the most reliable way of moving around the city (as everywhere), but the level of maintenance is so much better than in New York and frequency of trains is so much better than in Sydney. The line A of the subway (Subte) which we use here is the oldest therefore the least impressive, with the oldest cars. New lines look so much better than Australian or American subways, with artwork on the walls and floors. It is possible to argue about the quality of the art work and about the choice of colours, but one thing is clear: Argentinean artists have plenty of commissions from the government, and it is pity that Australian or American governments cannot afford such luxury as art for passengers.
One more peculiarity: Madonnas. They are everywhere: metro stations, markets – in the most unusual places sometimes. I was surprised to see how many passengers rushing from one train to another do not forget to touch the shrine, to say a prayer while running. They are much loved and needed, those Madonnas.

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