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The Most Dangerous Traffic Circle In The World?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013 - 11:22 AM


I've been to New Delhi where traffic is frightening. I've seen pictures of Nairobi and Bangkok, where it's even scarier. But Ho Chi Minh City? The town we used to call Saigon? I don't think I'd put myself in a truck, car, bike or even a Sherman tank in that town. This video opens in the scariest traffic circle I could imagine — actually, it's beyond imagining — where bikes, cars and people seem simultaneously, collectively and individually heading straight at each other (when you look, just count the vehicles and people on collision course; there are at least two or three in every frame). It's a metropolitan circle of death, and yet ...

What Cezanne did for apples, Rob Whitworth does for city traffic. His short videos of big Asian cities — Shanghai and most recently Kuala Lumpur — make what for me (a Manhattan boy) are the boringest, ugliest, most useless parts of cities — the traffic clogged streets — oddly beautiful. He must have grown up in L.A., I decided. But when I looked, it turns out ... no, he's British. Go figure.


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Comments [5]

William A. Grimes from San Francisco

Actually traffic in Ho Chi Minh/Saigon City and Hanoi is not all that dangerous if you first get rid of any Western concepts such as personal safety. :-) While there are some traffic lights, they are regarded as advisories. One steps off the curb and proceeds at a slow but steady pace across the street. The motor scooters will avoid you if the drivers can predict where you will be when the get to you. Hesitate or make a sudden erratic move and you may be a statistic. I never had a problem during my journey there.

This was not the case when I was staying in Chenai, India, but then my hotel would not let me leave the grounds without a car and driver; I would surely be killed, they would tell me. Unlike Saigon most traffic there was automobile and the odds of being killed were higher.

Jun. 18 2013 05:58 PM
Matt from Hanoi, Vietnam

Sweet! My new country's on the map!

It's true that the rules are play-as-you-go, but even in my first few days in Vietnam, I started to notice how organic the traffic is here. It flows, it pulses, it breathes. And, after a short time, it becomes far less terrifying; you notice very quickly that there are few cars and trucks, the vehicles are usually traveling no more than 25 mph, and that nearly everyone is watching all the time (hey, if you're on two wheels, you'll get hurt, no matter who's fault it is). But, the vast majority of accidents are very minor.

It really is like traveling amongst schools of fish, with the occasional whale passing through!

Jun. 16 2013 01:26 PM
Emily from Madison, WI

I lived in HCMC for a year. Traffic is a confusing mess, but it doesn't move too fast. Those motorbikes have a top speed of MAYBE 40 km/hr. At least in cities, if you keep your wits about you, you should be okay. Ah, that video was amazing, I feel so nostalgic now.

Jun. 14 2013 03:53 PM
Sam Barnes from Australia, Adelaide

Have a look at the annual road death/injury toll in some of these countries and you might reconsider the advantages of chaos.

Jun. 13 2013 06:52 AM
Chris from Oakland, CA

Chaotic? Yes. Dangerous? Maybe, but maybe not. I think it's possible that fewer hard rules might actually make it safer in some circumstances, because you are constantly on guard and must make a judgement call. With hard and fast rules, I feel like we tend to go on autopilot and lapse into distraction.

I think the clustering of bikes and cars and pedestrians is actually safer because it forces everyone to slow down. It's when we segregate the modes of travel that things can become dangerous, because there are huge differences in speed among the modes of travel. It's the difference in relative speed (and mass, obviously) that is dangerous. This is my perception and my experience. I don't have any scientific basis for it other than an understanding of physics. But maybe reconsider the notion that transportational chaos is inherently unsafe.

Jun. 12 2013 11:42 PM

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