One Saturday morning, outside a swimming pool in Berlin, my wife and I overheard an interesting conversation.
A woman and a little girl walked out of the pool, with the woman holding the little girl’s hands. A cyclist zipped across their path, which caused the little girl to flinch. A look of fright swept across the features of her face. But the woman, presumably her mother, was calm. She told the child with an assertive tone:
“Du muss nicht aufpassen. Der Fahrradfahrer muss aufpassen.”
This translates to “You do not need to watch out. The cyclist must watch out.”
Given a similar situation, it is likely that a very different conversation would have happened in India or elsewhere in the developing world, where pedestrian rights are not respected. As Indian children, we have always been told that we ought to look out for our own safety at every street crossing. That vehicles are powerful, can be reckless and can deal us irreparable damage if we do not watch out. It is every pedestrian for themselves.
This incident reflects how good German pedestrian rights are. They enable Germans to step boldly into areas designated for pedestrians – trust that would be thoroughly misplaced in countries with unruly traffic where hit-and-run is the norm. It also points to how German parents teach their children to become bold and independent from a very young age. But more importantly, they live in an environment which makes that easy for them to do.
And perhaps those things – independence and public safety, are interrelated.