Cultural Priorities: Efficiency and Safety Margins

James and I ride up to Ulloor or Medical College or Pattom fairly frequently. One of our favorite thali lunches (Sree Gauri Nivas, pure veg and de-lish-us) is across the street from the Medical College entrance and there are grocers in the area. At the end of the Ulloor-Akkulam Road, we can turn left-then-right (on the left side of the road, remember) to go to Kesavasadapuram. That takes us to the bike shop, a couple banks that’ll give us small bills for the Rs. 2000 bills the ATM spits out, and some other places we don’t need much from. Alternately, we can get in the right turn lane and wait for the light. When the light turns green, it has already turned red for the crossing traffic, as is customary at intersections with lights. I’ve pretty much gotten used to the fact that I can’t stand there at my green light and wait for everyone to stop running the red light. The folks in the crossing traffic continue to come along against their red light until the green-light traffic gets their butts in gear and cross the empty lanes between. Then the red-light traffic stops to allow the green-light traffic their right of way. And you know what? It’s terrifically efficient. So is bunching up at lights in a snarled mass of cars, trucks, bikes, buses, scooters, motorcycles, and auto-rickshaws. Anyone who’s slow off the line doesn’t cause a whole segment of the population to miss the green light, and for the most part, it’s less a snarl than a coil (a messy one, like a DNA molecule), ready to string out to fit the amount of road ahead of it. I keep seeing these kinds of things and I’m struck by both my discomfort (spurts of terror are rare)[…]

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