South America Blog
About this blog
Wayne Bernhardson is the author of Moon Handbooks to Buenos Aires, Chile, Argentina, and Patagonia. Here he shares his vast knowledge of South America and its people.
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- The Uruguayan Sacraments: Tango & Mate
- Taxing the Tourist: Argentina's AFIP Aims Low
- Fortress Falklands: A Book Review
- Pope Argentinus I, The Musical: Ragtime Meets Tango
- Credit Where Credit Is Undue?
- ¿Adios Hugo?
- When "No" Is A Positive
- Chile and Its "Crazies"
- The Oscars: A Post Mortem, So to Speak
- Sacrificing the Atacama? A Chilean View of Dakar
- Chilean Oscar Faceoff? "No" v. "Kon-Tiki"
- Friday Digest: Southern Cone Nuggets
- Dancing in the Mud? The Andean Aftermath
- Floods & Mud: Summer Storms Hit the Andes
Ceasefire in the Traffic Wars?
Arriving in Buenos Aires, I normally recalibrate my instincts to adapt to the Argentine capital’s motorists, who never even seem to acknowledge anybody in the crosswalk. I have long argued that, as a pedestrian here, the first rule of survival is to appreciate that you are invisible. Making eye contact with a Porteño driver is next to impossible.
Others, though, think even less of local drivers than I do. Last month, at the Feria Internacional de Turismo, a US consular employee told me that he thought pedestrians were not invisible – rather, he said, they were targets. I disagree on that – the fact is that most Porteño drivers pay attention at intersections to avoid other vehicles, but utterly ignore pedestrians. On those occasions when pedestrians do register, few drivers stop; rather, they swerve around them, often while cursing out the window. Once, two doors from our apartment, a policeman told me that issuing citations to drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk was “not my job.”
Having established that, I can say that I’ve noticed improvements, and some Porteño friends agree with me that respect for pedestrians is growing. Etiquette may still be a minority position among Buenos Aires drivers, but some of them are learning. Credit where credit is due.
On a peripherally related matter, though, there’s been regression. In our Palermo neighborhood, in particular, motorists have begun to occupy crosswalks as their own personal parking places, forcing pedestrians out into the street where they’re even more vulnerable to speeding drivers. Only a couple days after my arrival, as I walked toward the nearby Parque 3 de Febrero, I found several cars blocking the crosswalk on the broad and busy Avenida Libertador, with a policeman standing idly nearby.
Approaching him, I asked whether or not blocking the crosswalk was an infraction, and he replied that indeed it was. Then I asked him why he hadn’t written out a ticket and, in contrast to the cop who said moving violations were not his job, he pulled out his book and started to cite the vehicles in question. This was positive, of course, except perhaps for the fact that he had to wait for someone to ask him to do his job.
In a similar situation a few days ago, I found another vehicle blocking the crosswalk along Blvd. Cerviño, just steps away from our building. Likewise, a policeman stood nearby as pedestrians maneuvered around the vehicle (and the pile of trash that made things even worse, but that’s a separate issue that I’ll deal with in the near future). This cop, though, was less compliant than the other – “I don’t have a citation book,” he said, and he didn’t think it would be fair to call a tow truck. Argentina may have achieved marriage equality, but equivalent respect for pedestrians has a long way to go.