Snapshots of Italy 1: the Traffic

Posted by T on May 10, 2016
Culture, Travel

Imagine a bump car concession at the carnival. Only with these differences:

  • There are twice as many cars
  • Numerous pedestrians are strolling right through the thick of it, at random
  • In addition, motorcyclists
  • There are no collisions

In Palermo, which is the largest city in Sicily and the fifth largest in Italy, I think there are about six stop lights and no stop signs. Probably an exaggeration due to shell-shock. It wouldn’t surprise me to find there are a good dozen stop lights, especially if you count suburbs.

How is right of way established at intersections, then? Good question. I have no idea. I think the concept “right of way” is simply inoperative. It is anarchy. It is proof that the libertarians are not completely wrong in claiming that anarchy works.

After the initial shock wore off, I think it is a pretty good system. Take a look here.

Except that when you need to cross a street as a pedestrian, and there is no cross-street to present obstacles slowing things down (kinda like a conductor vs. a semi-conductor), you have to just forge out with cars barreling down on you at 45 miles per hour. You have to trust the system. This is hard on the nerves of a legalistic American like myself.

The motorcycles are the key to getting around rapidly, since they can cut to the front of the line even at that rare intersection that has a stop light. I’m sure I would have one if I lived here and needed to go more than a mile to get to work.

I don’t know, I find it terrifying and exhilarating at the same time.

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