If you have any intention to visit Sao Paulo (or Rio for that matter) either on business, or as a tourist, and you believe you might be required to cross a street, or perhaps even walk around, read the following very carefully.
Pedestrians do not have the right of way.
I’ve begun to wonder if the state of the automobile/pedestrian relationship is somehow primal. Perhaps the Brazilians’ jungle-living heritage is satisfied by artfully dodging large beings set on a path of destruction. Because I see no fear in the eyes of the Sao Paulo pedestrian as he or she catapults him or herself across a street filled with oncoming traffic, gambling only mere milliseconds in his or her survival. In fact, I’ve seen many with the corners of their mouths turned up just a bit as if scratching a troublesome itch. And the drivers are equal partners in this ancient game, taking their turn at playing the lion or elephant in the wild.
So, even if you plan to spend your mobile time safely inside a taxi (trust me, while you won’t believe this to be true your first 24 hours in the city, you’ll come to realize that the taxi is relatively safe), things can happen. Cars break down.
If you find yourself in a walking situation, you will need the following guidance:
- If car has a green light and wants to make a turn, it will turn into you if you are trying to cross the street. Without pause. Despite the fact that 9 times out of 10 there are a pile of pedestrian attempting to cross the street, cars pay no heed. I believe I’ve even caught drivers closing their eyes while they make the turn, just so they can say they didn’t see anyone. My advice here is pay attention to the one way streets. Try and outline your path so you are only crossing where cars will not turn. Even if it takes longer to get where you are going. And certainly don’t assume a driver will stop because he or she sees you trying to cross.
- Stop signs are an illusion. My theory is that the stops signs are in place to make the country seem less “third-worldy” to foreign investors. Do NOT assume that a car will stop just because a stop sign stands between you and it. Red lights are a bit more reliable, but proceed with caution.
- Same goes with crosswalks. If you see a crosswalk in the middle of the road, it doesn’t mean you can cross. You have the same chance of survival walking in a crosswalk as you would just crossing the road at any random spot. I think urban planners didn’t really understand what they were dictating to be painted on the streets, perhaps assuming it was some type of Western road design. Like shrubbery.
- Motorcycles would appear to have the same leniency toward traffic laws as do high ranking diplomats. Only they are more blatantly obvious in their disregard. They can also come out of nowhere, sometimes in crowds like a pack of cheetahs. So even if it looks safe to cross the street, listen for the roar of the motorcycle.
- It is sometimes difficult to identify the good neighborhoods from the bad neighborhoods in Brazilian cities. Just as it is difficult to distinguish the good people from the bad people. I’ve heard stories of professional looking men approach woman with what appears to be the intent to ask directions, only to stick a gun in their ribs and demand their purse. Even if you see the Brazilians do it, do not walk around with anything that appears to have some value on your person. Better to be safe than to impress the other pedestrians.
Good luck my fellow foreigners. Or as they say here, boa sorte!