Chiang Mai Traffic

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It is better to travel well than to arrive.

-- The Buddha

Inner city Chiang Mai is a traffic nightmare. Nearly all intersections are 4 way lights and it is very common to have to sit through 2 lights to get through. When I used to pick up Yunee where she worked during rush hour, a distance of 5 km one way, I usually had to sit through 4 to 6 traffic light full circles. 45 minutes one way was about normal. Around the outskirts of the city they are developing three ring roads. Multilane highways to carry traffic around the city. This of course does very little good as nearly all traffic goes into the city.

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Well, at these super highways as they are called here, traffic going into or out of the city backs up, often for a kilometer or more. They are in the process of implementing a solution for that: underpasses. But Thai style. The major traffic flow, in and out of the city still gets the stop light while the superhighway, more often than not with only one or two cars visible at any given time gets the underpass. There will be frontage roads and on and off ramps, so a full four way traffic light is still mandatory. Thai drivers are too impatient most of the time and thus two way lights with 'turn when safe' options result in traffic snarls and accidents every few minutes. Nobody ever yields the right of way. You 'push through'. Only now, with these ultra wide intersections, when you get a green light to turn once you make the turn you are confronted by the red lights of the stopped traffic so you are not sure if you should continue on.

But not to fear. The super highways are entirely wrong too. They don't build bridges and over or underpasses in most places. Therefore the U-turn is mandatory. They even make little turn-outs for the turning car to get out of the flow of traffic. But they make up for any possible misconception of common sense by making the breaks in the median divider such a great distance apart people, especially on motorcycles, drive the wrong way, against traffic, rather than going a few kilometers out of their way.

On another note, a full 1/4 of the traffic lights around here malfunction. Are simply off. When they are working, the lights are placed wherever it was convenient to place them. As example, just down the road the through traffic arrow and the right turn lane arrow are way off to the left side of the road. One is given the impression you can make a right turn from the parking lane on the left side. Of the maybe 150 traffic light intersections in downtown CM, only 3 or 4 have the lights placed above the relevant lanes they control. Another neat trick is when stopped at many of the lights, you cannot readily see the light at all. Somewhere in this intersection is a light I have to watch... but where is it?? With a few of the intersection the light is placed on the same side of the intersection, in the median strip commonly, and the traffic it controls. Thus, if you are near or at the front of the line you cannot see the light at all. Realizing the lighting placement is total suck in some intersections they have taken to placing additional mini traffic lights on the poles of the major ones about 4 feet off the ground so drivers can see them.

And then, the u-turn. Also known as the deadliest maneuver one can make. In California a u-turn is illegal except at a controlled intersection. Since I have scraped up more than a few messes caused by u-turns, and the fact that Baby cannot make them, I usually have to go a mile or two out of my way at least once per day to execute a series of safe turns to get me where I wanted to go. I often pass where I am going during the process: across the road in plain view with several thousand cars and motorcycles unwilling to yield any right of way between me and my destination.

The solution to inner city snarl is to use the super highway ring roads. Circle the entire city and dive in where you have to go. This does work after a fashion but, for example, to go to my friends restaurant I have to drive nearly 10 miles out of my way on the innermost ring road. On the outermost that becomes 15 miles.

To get out to 'Mom's village I can drive through the city and out 10 km into the mountains, a total of 35 km, or I can go around, 45 km of very winding mountain road. The mountain road takes 10 minutes less time.

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