Defensive Walking in Mexico City

Less than six months ago, when we were still living in Brussels, my partner (Guillén) warned me that I could not walk around Mexico City in the same way I had in Europe. That day, as we approached an intersection, I quickly continued into the crosswalk, pulling him along with me. We stepped into the intersection seconds before a car, forcing the driver to stop and allow us to pass. Guillén reminded me again, “Please, do not do that in Mexico”. So, I was well-prepared for the almost complete and utter disregard for pedestrians and crosswalks here in CDMX.

I am very careful when I walk in the city. I try not to be distracted (i.e. look at my phone) as I walk, and I always stop and look before crossing, even if there is a pedestrian crossing. Why? Because cars rarely stop. It is a bit comical, as many crosswalks are wide and portray a walking pedestrian – or several (see image below). However, cars roll through intersections looking straight through pedestrians and crosswalks. The only time a car yields or stops is for another automobile.

There are many issues at hand, that I am just beginning to understand. For one, until very recently there was no test to obtain a driver’s license and no mandatory theoretical or practical classes. Yes, that means that people just bought a license and a car and started to drive without any training. Sounds dangerous? It is.

Also, for safety reasons, at night cars do not have to stop at red lights. Of course, this is intended to keep drivers and passengers safe from robbery or assault, but it makes the roads more dangerous for pedestrians, roads that are already poorly lit.

One final problem I notice is the urban design. Oftentimes, the stopline of cars is in front of where pedestrians are coming from. This means that as a pedestrian, if I want to cross in front of cars, I am coming from behind them. Already, cars are not expecting pedestrians and do not stop for the pedestrians they see clearly in front of them, so imagine what it feels like to be a pedestrian in a crosswalk where the drivers cannot even see you coming.

Personal anecdote: I was once in the middle of Avenido Río Churubusco and wanted to cross the street to buy water at the 7Eleven. I could actually find no safe way of crossing the road and so did not go to the 7Eleven. Churubusco is an extreme example, with its heavy and highspeed traffic and lack of places to cross. However, it is evident that much of the city was built without thinking about the people who walk its streets. The design and regulations aim to address traffic congestion and dangers on the road, but ignore the safety of pedestrians.

This will hopefully change soon with the new Mobility Law in the city.