Many, many moons ago, I shared some travel tips for crossing the street in Rome. Long story short, waiting on the sidewalk for a car to stop and let you traverse a crosswalk without a traffic light or stop sign is an exercise in futility. The Romans don’t stop for you unless you are already in the crosswalk, but taking that first step is terrifying as Italian drivers love to accelerate as fast as possible and then slam on the brakes at the last possible second. The initial stride always feels like you’re selling your soul to the roadkill devil, but if you do it confidently with no looking back, you’re golden. I eventually got accustomed to it and prided myself on having mastered the art of Roman street-crossing.
After Rome, I thought crossing the street anywhere else in Italy (with the exception of Naples perhaps?) would be cake. I was wrong. Crossing traffic-light-less streets in Milan is more terrifying. To start, it’s a different set of rules from Rome…in Milan, you don’t just step into the crosswalk as traffic approaches, a lesson I had learned the hard way after having been at the receiving end of many a flipped bird. So, some Milan travel trips for crossing the street: do so at a mutually agreed upon moment with the driver. As the car approaches, I turn my head slightly in its direction, maintaining eye contact with the driver as I cross AFTER it stops. Always exercise caution when initially approaching the crosswalk as three or four cars may disregard your right of way and zoom past you.
If I remember one suggestion from my high school driver’s ed instructor, it’s that there’s no need to rush to a red light or stop sign. The Italians don’t seem to share this viewpoint as the Milanesi, too, love to accelerate and slam on the brakes at the last possible second. I’m not trying to make fun of the Italians or be spiteful or anything like that…they just drive a little differently and after more than two-and-a-half years in Italy, I haven’t grown fully accustomed to their method.
There have been many instances in Milan when I have hesitated to step into a crosswalk after having ascertained the speed of an oncoming car that didn’t seem like it would be stopping. I never wanted to run through the crosswalk in an effort to dodge the quickly approaching vehicle as it always felt like a gamble…if I fell and the driver didn’t stop in time, it would have meant the end of me or worse. But more often then not the driver would slam on the brakes just a few feet before the crosswalk, coming to a sudden halt–my cue to cross.
While I appreciate the drivers acknowledging my right of way as a pedestrian, I can’t help but question their need to maintain a high speed only to slam on the brakes so furiously that it seems like the airbag might eject. In fact, I don’t think the drivers realize that if they slowed down from a distance, timid pedestrians like myself would take advantage of their slower speed and cross, then the drivers could pick up speed and be on their way without having completely stopped at all, which ultimately wastes less time and might get them to their destinations about 3.2 seconds sooner than full-on stopping only to pick up speed from zero km/h.