Pedestrian power in Switzerland

In the concrete jungle of Metro Manila, one crosses the street at his/her own risk. Pedestrian crossings don’t really mean anything to impatient motorists who seem convinced, based on their recklessness, that they have the right of way almost always. No wonder we hear a lot of hit-and-run incidents in the Philippines.

So I inwardly relish my newly acquired power over the motorists here in Switzerland, a virtual haven for pedestrians like me who almost had a near-death (or should I say “near-tire”) experience on Taft Avenue, Manila in the early ’90s. Here, I can set foot on those yellow parallel lines and feel safe, not worrying if a jeepney from out of nowhere hits and runs over me. Here, I am the queen of the road — on foot.

The Swiss law states that motorists must hit the breaks for a pedestrian at a pedestrian crossing if the latter shows an intention to cross the road. They have to because it is the law, and not because they are fond of stopping their vehicles on behalf of the pedestrian. (Reports have it that 20 percent of road fatalities are pedestrians. So one must still exercise caution.) After all, it is widely known that traffic violations cost a lot of money. This explains why some Swiss motorists sometimes feel a bit jittery while driving.

However, pedestrians must wait for a green light before crossing the road at a pedestrian crossing with pedestrian lights, regardless of whether there is an ongoing traffic or not. Penalty fees may just be as high. So “jay walking” — that is, crossing the road against a red light or crossing where it’s prohibited — is not an option even though one is in a hurry to catch the last train home. It is considered a crime here, so don’t even think about it.

But comparatively speaking, as I already pointed out, pedestrians in Switzerland have more leverage than their counterparts in the Philippines. And this is even an understatement.