Nobody is winning the battle between the motorists and the pedestrians in Beijing. But, strangely enough, no one seems to be losing too badly either. OK, this is the situation at most intersections: You get to the corner and you notice an immense amount of activity. There are bikes. Lots of bikes. Pretty cool bike of all kinds, but anyway. Some go straight, some stop, and some turn either left or right. There are vehicles. The same is true for the cars (stop, straight, left, or right). And then there are pedestrians. In addition, if you can see him amongst all of the activity, there’s often a crossing guard officer with the apparent goal of keeping this quadratic equation in order. But he’s very polite, and you don’t really have to listen to him is you don’t feel like it. And he doesn’t exactly agree with the traffic signal. He’s usually a little ahead of the traffic light… probably… if you trust him. Oh yeah, if you’re a motorist and you want to turn either left or right on the red light, you’re in the right city! Both left and right turning seem to be acceptable on the red. No problem there.
If you’re a pedestrian, your chances of making it across the intersection with all of your appendages in tact is just as good with the signal as without. There are bikes and cars coming at you from all directions at all times, regardless of the greenness of the traffic light. In fact, I bet you’re better off crossing in the middle of the block instead of at the intersection where you have four directions of oncoming objects, instead of just two.
The funny thing was, I hardly saw any close calls between motorists and pedestrians (except with myself and a few motorists/bicyclists). This was not true in Paris, Porto, Tampere, or Helsinki, where I had a much better understanding of what I was supposed to do in order to conserve life at the traffic intersections. Somehow, everyone develops the necessary dexterity and visual acuity required to cross the street in Beijing. Or maybe no one is left who unfortunately did not develop these skills. I am proud to say I survived (though just barely) pedestrianism in Beijing!