Society and Culture

To You, the Driver: Crossing a Road in Ulaanbaatar

I had to make a run for it, because I was not going to get another chance.

I took a step, I committed, and there was no turning back. I made the five steps looking to my right and took a break. Then I looked left, I locked eyes with a man who was blaring his radio and looking straight at me. I held on to my mom’s hand tighter and began to power walk to the end, hoping that the driver would not acknowledge me and my trailing mother.

As I finished crossing the busy Ulaanbaatar street and breathed a sigh of relief, the driver stuck his head out of his window and started yelling at me, calling me names and angrily asking (commenting?) on whether I knew how to cross the street with another sprinkle of cuss words.

Based on 2013 data from the World Health Organization there were 675,064 cars in Mongolia, and this number has only increased since then. There are anecdotes of people having multiple cars due to the city’s restrictions on driving during specific days of the week. For example, you are not allowed to drive in the city on Mondays if your license plate finishes with a 1 or 6, on Tuesdays if it finishes with a 2 or 7, on Wednesdays if it finishes with a 3 or 8, and so on. This is supposed to help with the constant congestion and the rising pollution. Additionally, people like driving large 4-wheel drives due to the harsh climate, the camping culture and the status symbol it affords.

With rising car ownership and narrow, often pot-holed roads, car accidents happen daily. Moreover, in a country with  high rates of alcoholism, being on the street in a car or as a pedestrian during the holidays is especially dangerous. These aspects contribute to a city that is not pedestrian friendly, with no respect for those who are crossing the street. There is no right of way, and traffic lights are only used as a suggestion.

To the driver who spewed out the harsh words at me and my 60 year old mother, I am sorry that you had to slow down.



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