I have ranted on this blog in the past about how much I hate four-way stop signs, but I found I actually don’t mind them in Mexico. Down there, everyone works together and you all get through the intersection, and if someone pushed in a little ahead of you when it was technically your turn, it’s not all that bad, because at least they do it quickly, and with sure intention, so that there is no question in your mind that you have to stop and wait a bit. And they tend to get out of your way with equal alacrity.
There is this one intersection in Rosarito that almost defies description, but I’m going to try anyway. Or perhaps I will draw a diagram.
Here’s how it looks on the map:
The top orange line on the right is a freeway off ramp, and the bottom orange line is a freeway on ramp. The white road between them goes over a bridge that starts right about where the ramps begin. The yellow lines on the left show the main road through town. Doesn’t look so bad, right? Except for one thing. If you are coming off the freeway on that top orange line, but you want to go across the bridge (and it seems that a large percentage of the traffic does want to do that particular maneuver), you have to pull a U turn across the white street. Okay, so that’s not so bad either, especially when you consider that the west-bound traffic on that white street has a stop sign right there.
Except that this seems to be one of the busiest intersections in Rosarito. Not only are people coming off the freeway and wanting to U-turn to cross the bridge, but some of them also want to go to the McDonalds across the street.
Plus there are people coming out of McDonalds who want to go across the bridge.
Plus, let us not forget that freeway on ramp at the bottom, and some people coming east from the main road want to get on the freeway.
Also, some of the people coming across the bridge, who have stopped at the stop sign, also want to either get on the freeway or go to McDonalds, so some of them are turning left there.
And to make matters more fun, a large amount of people are coming off the main road and going across the bridge, and at the other end of the bridge there is an equally busy intersection that often gets gridlocked.
All this means that this intersection is almost always choked with cars, and that much of the time traffic is backed up across the bridge. So if you are coming off the freeway, you don’t just have to make a U Turn. You have to make a U turn while pushing your way into traffic that is backed up while not blocking the people who have stopped at the stop sign.
And you also don’t want to accidentally get on the on ramp instead of the bridge because then you will find yourself the other end of town, at the off ramp that empties directly into the parking lot of a very popular Pemex gas station.
At any rate, the satellite picture on Mapquest shows the mayhem a little more accurately, although this was obviously not taken during rush hour. Notice there are no sidewalks or crosswalks. More than once I have seen pedestrians crossing this road. Not at the intersection, though, but kind of in the middle between the intersection and the bridge, i.e. the absolute worst place to put your body in front of a moving vehicle because the driver is already distracted with trying not to hit the cars coming at him from five different directions.
Just to make it more fun, when you get to the other side of the bridge, if you want to turn right, you have to be aware of an off ramp coming up alongside the bridge on the right. You can’t actually SEE it, because it’s lower than the road, but there could be a car coming up that way, so you have to do your best, before you cut over to the right turn lane, to catch a glimpse of something in that direction so you don’t crash into them as they merge onto the main road. This is why it’s always good to have a passenger with you when you drive in Mexico.
Within a few hours of arriving there my first time driving in Mexico, I had to face this intersection – the hard way, being one of the U-turners. I should also mention it was the evening rush hour. And dark.
It was surprisingly easy, because as I said before, everyone worked together. As long as you don’t dither, and take your turn the second it opens up, you do just fine. I find this far preferable to the waving-on wars that happen in intersections up in the States.
Come to think of it, while this U-turn intersection actually seems to work in Mexico, I’m pretty sure it would result in some shootings if it were up in L.A.
At any rate, after my two days of driving across the border, I came up with this:
1) Drive slower than you think you should. You never know when a car, pedestrian or dog will appear in front of your car. Or a pot hole.
2) If you think it’s your turn, go. You’ll figure out it really wasn’t your turn if you find someone else in your way, and you can always stop then. If you hang about too long trying to figure out if it’s your turn, though, you’ll mess up the whole flow of traffic.
3) Always take a passenger. This gives you someone to talk to during slow traffic, as well as equipping your vehicle with another pair of eyes.
4) If someone honks you, they are not upset. They are just saying, “Hey, I’m over here, don’t hit me.” There is a good chance they are breaking traffic laws at the time, hence the need to get your attention.
5) Stop signs are a good idea, but no one really takes them all that seriously.
- Corollary A) If the paint has washed off the stop sign, you really shouldn’t have to stop there.
- Corollary B) On the other hand, it’s a good idea to treat every intersection like there is a stop sign, just in case someone else is not taking them seriously coming the other way.
6) Traffic lights are also suggestions, but it’s usually a good idea to agree with them.
Corollary A) Don’t take pictures of them.
8) Develop an innate sense of the width of your vehicle ahead of time. You will use this information often.
9) If too many pedestrians are clogging the crosswalk and taking their time to get across, just start easing forward to encourage them to hurry up, especially if they are students. They need to develop a healthy fear of moving vehicles.
10) If you need to back out into traffic, just go. Nobody wants to hit you. They’ll stop.
11) Don’t worry about doing the right thing. You can’t really do the wrong thing. We’re all making it up as we go.
Come to think of it, that last one is a good rule of thumb for life.