Friday, March 2, 2012

Walking/Driving in S. Korea

Last year I posted some blogs about public transportation in Korea (buses, trains, and taxis) but neglected to post about the cheapest and easiest way to get around: walking. I’ll also mention a few things related to driving in Korea since you have to watch for similar things (I don’t drive here because I like being alive).

Walking would seem like the safest way to get around Korea after what I mentioned about the other ways to get around, but that’s just crazy talk – there’s a reason why K-Pop music videos and K-Dramas seem to have recurring themes of people being hit by cars. You definitely have to be more alert and keep an eye out for things more than in the U.S. when walking and driving both (except for muggers…you have to be on the lookout for those in the U.S.) - especially since you don’t have that nice little barrier of plastic/metal between you and a speeding vehicle when you’re on foot.

Intersections without stoplights are typically the less busy roads and are fairly easy to get across, but you have to definitely look both ways still. Even when crossing one-way streets. That little arrow with the ‘X’ through it means nothing - cars will still barrel down that road whether they’re supposed to or not. From what I’ve been told, the rule of thumb is to stop for 3 seconds at a crossroad (there are no stop signs in Korea). If you’re at an intersection with stoplights and crossing signs, you would think you could stroll on across when the little green man lights up, but you’d be horribly mistaken. Buses, taxis, and anything else on wheels will still charge on through that sucker like it’s still a green light for them. You typically have to wait another 3 to 4 vehicles AFTER their light has turned red before you’re able to safely cross the intersection. Luckily, a lot of busy roads will have underground tunnels for people to walk through to make things a bit safer and convenient.

You have to watch out for motorized vehicles even when strolling down the sidewalk. Scooters will charge on down those suckers like it’s nobody’s business and honk at YOU to get out of the way. Bicycles will also come zipping along ringing their damn little bells for you to move out of the way, so be on the lookout for those, too. Cars will also park on sidewalks, so you have to dodge those as well sometimes. Just yesterday by Kyung-hee University, I spotted a car DRIVING down the sidewalk. Pedestrians really seem to have no right of way at all in Korea. However, to be fair, people will walk down the middle of the street instead of on the sidewalk and wander out in front of cars without even looking. Check out a report of traffic accidents for each here in Korea here.

Basically, keep your wits about you and keep an eye out if you’re driving or walking because you can’t count on drivers to exactly pay attention to traffic laws.

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