Text Fred Flintstone
Winter in Moscow no longer resembles a scene from the film Dr. Zhivago, with its images of heavy, deep white snow and frosty ice-crusted beards. However, Musvovites still use the winter expression such as “tomorrow it will be more than 10 degrees,” which really means less than minus 10, the minus assumed in winter. But in recent years winter never seems to make more than a passing appearance with temperatures hovering near zero.
What snow does come is efficiently removed, with loaders and trucks working round the clock to clear streets and walks before dawn. “Guest-workers” are out early, sweeping, shoveling, scraping and feeding the scooper-conveyors that fill the trucks.
Each morning Fred gets up to take Fred Jr. to the bus stop, a round trip that usually takes at least half an hour, ten there and twenty back, more or less depending on previous night’s snowfall. In winter the trip starts in darkness but along the way the streetlights pop off as daylight seeps in under the city’s ever-present winter cloud cover. This season weeks go by without sight of the sun, though finally broken on those crisp, fresh days when temperatures dip below-15c.
Road hazards increase in winter not only because of the darkness, snow and ice compounded with the juveniles of every age behind the wheel. Pedestrians also pose seasonal dangers. One of the marvels visitors notice about Moscow is that it is always alive with people, even late at night in residential districts. But bundled up from head to toe, usually in black or near black they are difficult to see against the winter grim on roads, walkways, walls and vehicles. They don’t realize that, just because they see the headlights of oncoming cars, drivers do not necessarily see them as the scamper across the road especially in the dark days of winter. Against the backdrop of under-light or unlit black, wet and slippery roads a pedestrian appears, a small bit of exposed face shining in the headlights of an oncoming NASCAR wannabe.
Perhaps this is a side-effect of the city’s public transport system, one of the best with a metro that carries millions every day and its thousands of buses, trolleybuses and trams. The superb public transport system also means that many of its pedestrians have never been behind the wheel of a car and don’t realize the limitations of driver sight and reaction.
Many drivers push the traffic rules to their limits, but pedestrians appear to have no rules, at least you don’t often see a gaishinik (traffic policeman) stop them for violations. They cross anywhere often just meters from a stoplight controlled crosswalk or a podzemny perekhod (underground walkway). They dart out from between buses or stand in the middle of the road waiting to cross the last half with traffic behind and in front. And like drivers, the problem is not the 98% that follow the rules, it’s the 2% that make the roads hazardous for everyone.