No stop signs = GO!

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2011

What are the consequences of living in a city with 1.5 million people and no stop signs? One is honking. Multiple cars approach an intersection and each one honks to warn the others it is going through. Multiple cars approach an intersection, and each one honks, but no car yields, so they become gridlocked and then the drivers really start honking. Multiple cars approach an intersection, and all of them honk because they are going to a wedding (this especially applies on Saturdays and Sundays).

I tried to find out which city has the most honking drivers. Unfortunately, I only found results for U.S. cites, and Miami has the distinction(?) of winning. Hanoi “sounds” like it has lots of honkers too. “Vietnam has echoing horns, music horns, air-horns, every type of horn you can imagine and too many drivers that are too horn-happy. There is an increasing trend for people to install air-horns (designed for 18-wheeler trucks) on motorbikes and taxis as if the louder your horn is, the safer you are.” (http://www1.dtinews.vn/news/beautiful-vietnam/opinion/honking-me-crazy.html) On a more positive note, New York City’s taxis will soon have “honk-reduction technology: a so-called low-annoyance horn to reduce screechiness.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/12/nyregion/with-the-taxis-of-tomorrow-seeking-a-softer-honk.html). And the most depressing news is that you can download 34 different honking ringtones for your mobile phone (http://www.zedge.net/ringtones/0-4-1-honking/).

But honking and gridlock are not the only consequences—there’s also a lot of gasoline being wasted. Why? Imagine that you’re driving on a busy 4-lane road (such as downtown Tbilisi’s main shopping street) and there are neither stop signs nor traffic lights (I’m not kidding). You want to turn left, but there’s always too much oncoming traffic. The only solution is to drive forward a couple of miles to a roundabout and then return a couple miles to make your turn.

And I’ve already written about the dangers for “chickens” trying to cross the road. The next time I need to cross a busy road, I’m going to flag a taxi. Of course, he (it’s always a male) will have to drive forward two miles, enter the roundabout, and then drive back two miles, but I’ll safely get to the other side. I guess it’ll cost 3 lari ($1.80) to cross the road.

But I’m not being fair. I’ve only mentioned the negative consequences of a city without stop signs. As a journalist, I should be fair and balanced. So . . . no stop signs = GO! Go as fast as you can, all the time, everywhere.

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Why didn’t the chicken cross the road?

Copyright Susanna Melo, 2011

On a relaxing Saturday, we walked down from our apartment at the top of Holy Mountain in order to go to the other side of Mtkvari river, where there is a large bazaar. When we got to the bottom of the hill, we needed to cross a busy road, but on this particular road, there are no stop signs, traffic lights, overpasses or underpasses. After waiting unsuccessfully for traffic to slow, Susanna and I hustled halfway across and stood on the standard two yellow lines indicating a no passing zone. We stood there trembling as cars zoomed by. When we got to the other side, Susanna made me promise never to do that again. I promised.

On the other side we stopped to look at the art in an outdoor market. A few dozen artists display their work daily along a path by the river and near a bridge. We found one piece that we’ll soon buy. It’s a very tall, quite thin painting of the jumble of Tbilisi houses with their varied architectural styles. Then we made a crucial mistake. Since the weather was pleasant and we were taking our time, instead of crossing the “art” bridge, we decided to walk along the river and cross at the next bridge, about a half mile away; however, we discovered there was no way for pedestrians to have access to that bridge!  There were no steps from the walkway to lead up to it in order to cross to the other side. So we walked to the next bridge and then to the next bridge, but could never cross—and realized this pattern could continue for a long distance.

We were trapped. In order to go home or to have any chance to cross the river and reach the bazaar, Susanna and I had to re-cross the same dangerous road. Again we waited in vain for a gap in traffic until we could run to the double yellow lines, and from there to the sidewalk on the other side. Again Susanna made me promise “never again.” Then we hiked up an extremely steep hill holding on to skinny branches of some shrubs in order to have access to the bridge.

The rest of the “journey” was uneventful. We found the bazaar, with several hundred small vendors selling everything anyone could possibly want to buy (except soft sheets). We bought two large pots, a grater, a kilo of figs, and few other items, and on the way home we had a delicious dinner of eggplant dishes and a green bean dish at a Turkish restaurant. Total time elapsed was about 7 hours.

So why didn’t the chicken cross the road? Because it was “chicken,” and we will remain “chicken” the rest of our time in Tbilisi. I promise.