Notes From Hairenik
Today I read in a new Web forum I just joined that an online petition is being made available to sign in an attempt to persuade the Armenian government to do something about reckless driving. The letter is addressed to three ministers: Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, Minster of Foreign Affairs Haik Harutiunian, and Minister of Justice Davit Harutyunyan. It reads as follows:
Dear Ministers,
We, the undersigned are concerned citizens, visitors and devotees of our beloved land, Armenia. Our concern is the safety of all pedestrians, especially those in the streets of Yerevan. The traffic laws and regulations presently in place do not reflect the rapid increase of motor vehicles and unsafe drivers in the country. Our request from the government is: to act fast upon this life-threatening and concerning issue. Since the present laws do not work in favor of pedestrians, there is neither a safeguard nor justice for the victims, and the ramification for the motorists is from minimum to none.
As concerned Armenians we would appreciate your cooperation and sharing of our vision, for a pedestrian-safe Armenia.
There are cases of people dying in Yerevan from speeding cars and generally oblivious drivers, and the incident that sparked this campaign was the death of a young Iranian-born girl who was hit. The Araz Petition as it is called is named after her. She was only 17 when a driver going a bit too fast struck her one evening while she was crossing on Baghramyan Avenue, one of the busiest thoroughfares in Yerevan.

There are two problems now that are plaguing both motorists and pedestrians—drivers who do not know how to operate a vehicle and people who like to jaywalk. In an era when driving a used Mercedes-Benz, BMW, or another “foreign,” non-Russian car is considered a sign of wealth, you are seeing many more motorists cruising around, very few of whom actually know what the rules of the road are or how to operate their vehicle safely. Although there are driving schools and you can learn how to drive with an instructor sitting beside you, in many instances people pay an extra amount to obtain a driver’s license without knowing what to do, taxi drivers especially. There was a commercial on television shown a few weeks ago parodying this fact, where some guy who just finished grocery shopping is trying to figure out how to shift gears while his wife tells him how to via the mobile phone. I’ve heard of people paying as much as $500 for a license or more.

So you see a lot of whippersnappers driving their pimped-out Ladas with black tinted windows at top speeds throughout downtown Yerevan, in particular up Nalbandyan Street exiting Republic Square, along Sayat Nova Street, and on Baghramyan, as those streets have at least two traffic lanes making it easy to pass. There are other show offs as well driving imports, making illegal U-turns before racing down the street trying to be the first to make the red light (assuming someone actually stops for it). You cannot walk down the street without seeing a driver passing another car illegally, unnecessarily speeding, or driving incorrectly so as to endanger not only other motorists or pedestrians but themselves as well. It’s becoming a real problem—there are too many cars on the road and no one to enforce traffic rules, since cops are generally concerned only with collecting bribes.

On the other hand, jaywalkers are ever-present. And it doesn’t matter where in the city you are—they are everywhere. It is acceptable to jaywalk unfortunately—very rarely do you see people actually waiting for the traffic light to change before crossing at an intersection since people are so impatient about everything. Usually the thing to do is to start walking into the street towards the middle when not as many cars are coming and stand on the solid lane-indicating line until traffic slows down in the opposite direction. Sometimes you see an actual designated place where people are apparently supposed to stand safely in the middle of the street as cars speed by nearly grazing someone’s toes. Actually I am amazed how peoples toes are not run over by the way people approach so close to cars whizzing by them. To make things worse, some pedestrian traffic lights do not work properly so people who want to cross the street without risking being run over are confused as to when to walk. Also obstructed sidewalks due to construction projects hamper pedestrian access.

So what to do? Well for starters, the Good Samaritan organization is now showing public service ads demonstrating people crossing in a pedestrian crosswalk, and a vehicle lets them have the right of way instead of swerving sharply around them. Not only are they trying to make motorists understand that they have to slow down for pedestrians, people are learning that they need to actually cross the street where they are supposed to. Although some readers will undoubtedly disagree, this trend has already gotten underway performed by drivers who know better and respect the rules of the road. Drivers have stopped for me and I have seen them do so for others perched at the beginning of crosswalks as well. But this is a phenomenon, unfortunately.

I have only once seen traffic cops actually directing traffic at most definitely one of the busiest intersections in the city, Charents and Abovyan, when the lights were malfunctioning one afternoon. So we can’t expect them to chew out someone for not stopping for a pedestrian let alone running a red light. Once in a while you see cars being pulled over seemingly at random, sometimes for speeding, but again, this is another uncommon scenario.

In a nutshell not only do motorists have to learn to slow down, pedestrians have to understand when is the proper time to cross the street—it’s very simple. As a primary measure at most intersections all vehicle traffic should stop at preset timed intervals to allow people to walk from one corner to the next, something you find in some cities in the US for example. Such a public service is a huge necessity throughout Yerevan, but who can say when the mayor’s office is going to realize that something needs to be done in that vain? So in my opinion obeying traffic laws is a two-way street so to speak—both pedestrians and drivers have to respect each other and learn when to uphold their own rights of way. When that will actually happen we cannot ever tell, but it’s chiefly reliant upon common sense sinking in until some new traffic laws are put into effect or rather, the current ones are upheld.

To sign the petition, go here.

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