WHAT strikes fear in the hearts of China's motorists? Pedestrians.
Seventy per cent of mainland Chinese respondents in a recent Synovate survey attribute China's worsening traffic problem to unruly pedestrians, second only to rocketing private car ownership.
Pedestrians pose such a problem for China's motorists that wardens with whistles and flags are stationed at major intersections in the three main cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Their job? "To stop people wandering across the road against the traffic lights," says Synovate China managing director Darryl Andrew.
The survey on traffic was conducted on over 5,500 respondents in China, Hong Kong, Spain, South Africa, Hungary, Russia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Each of these markets was asked how many hours were spent in traffic everyday and how their behaviour has changed to cope with the daily ordeal.
About three-quarters of UAE respondents and half of their counterparts in Hong Kong, Hungary and China are on the road at least one hour everyday. It appears that UAE residents in particular need to steel themselves before getting into the car for a drive – 42% say they sit in traffic up to two hours everyday; four out of 10 claim it's more than two hours.
"The Dubai authorities recognised that the road infrastructure did not develop as fast as our residential and business areas, and they are addressing this need by building more flyovers and intersections," says Andreas Gregoriou, Synovate's managing director for the Arabian Gulf. "These road works – evident all over Dubai – have increased traffic congestion in the short term."
A similar survey conducted by Synovate some years ago found that residents of Thailand, a country notorious for its gridlocks, adapted by wisely refusing to leave their neighbourhoods. This year's survey saw fairly similar reactions. Traffic can, and does, dictate where you live and how your day is spent – except for Hong Kong, it seems, where 44% of respondents say it hasn't affected their lives one way or another.
The reasons why traffic is the monster it is vary, with the most common gripe being too many cars and not enough roads. If pedestrians are the menace in China, "the road system ...including the infrastructure and road works," is the problem in Spain, says Madrid-based Synovate director Antonio Malillos. More intervention from traffic police could help, but not according to the Russians and South Africans. About 40% of respondents from both markets declare the traffic police themselves are responsible for creating traffic.