I want to be sensitive on this topic, because I have at least one reader (Hi Kyle) who was actually seriously hit by a car in Santiago (and I am so glad you were okay). However, here in Almaty, I do feel a bit like I am taking a leap of faith every time I cross the road.
Who has the right of way? This is an important question in any city. Of course, it is necessary to remember that who has the right of way is not always respected.
Here, in Almaty (I don’t want to speak for the rest of Kazakhstan because I do not know), the cars have the right of way unless the pedestrian is in a marked crossing zone. In the marked crossing zone, if a pedestrian is crossing, cars have to stop. That said, they don’t have to slow down much before they stop. It is completely acceptable, not to mention the norm, to continue at present speed until it is clear you will hit the person—then, and only then, slam on your breaks. Most people stop short of hitting me by a few inches. It is also acceptable—and, sadly, also the norm—to only stop if the person is in front of you. So, if a nice girl from Wisconsin is patiently standing on the side of the road, ready to cross, she will never get across because the cars won’t stop.
Even more dangerous then the last minute breaking, are the cars behind the car who stopped. See, they don’t want to stop. They want to swerve into oncoming traffic or the other lane to dart around the stopped car. This means that once they have darted, they may find the pedestrian in their path. They have even less time to slam on their breaks then the first car did. Let me remind you that the first car slammed on his breaks 3 car lengths after the nice girl from Wisconsin thinks is appropriate.
Needless to say: Yikes! This is one of those moments when you take a breath, close your eyes, make the leap of faith and put one foot in front of the other. Also, that is a leap I make 4 times each way back and forth to work.