Ukraine's Road To Europe Needs More Traffic Rules

KIEV, Ukraine -- The city of Kyiv is planning to expand its Metropolitan, or system of underground and surface trains, before the year 2012, when Ukraine will host the European football championship together with Poland.

A typical traffic jam on a downtown Kiev street. The 'nouveaux riche' Kiev motorists are some of the most obnoxious drivers in the world.

What a relief for pedestrians and motorists alike!

The estimated cost has been set at 3 billion dollars. This is a lot of money for a country that can barely afford to pay its soldiers and teachers, but the capital wants to be ready for all the football fans expected to arrive with their pockets full of money.

As it stands now, traffic jams and road rage are the number one turn-off for foreign visitors.

Along with the significantly expanded public transportation, there are also plans to launch lots of brand new hotels across the country.

Private investors should get a nice return, as a lack of hotel space is one of the main obstacles to the country’s great tourist potential.

But first and foremost, the hosting of the European championship is Ukraine’s chance to show the world that it’s not a post-Soviet backwater.

The Orange Revolution put the country on the map a few years back.

The positive PR continued when Ukraine hosted the Eurovision song contest in 2005. Canceling visa requirements for wealthy countries has also helped.

All this is good news for a country that increasingly wants to be known as a full-fledged part of Europe, rather than the site of the world’s nuclear accident.

Accidents, however, are still a very grim part of the Ukrainian reality, and the most serious are related to transportation.

For example, the country has been plagued most recently by a series of high-profile train wrecks, but thankfully the casualties have been small.

A much higher death toll is attributable to car accidents, which is why expanded public transportation in the capital is highly welcome.

Car crashes claims thousands of lives every year in Kyiv Region alone.

Most Westerners are used to frightening figures on auto-related deaths, but the situation in Ukraine merits closer study.

There aren’t many places in Europe or North America where you can be hit by a speeding sedan while strolling down a central street.

These aren’t bank robbers or rambunctious teenagers but everyday citizens who believe that pedestrians should move or be hit.

The Ukrainian capital is not only plagued by traffic jams on the roads but double parking on the sidewalk.

Sure, more parking structures need to be built, but it’s far from certain that people won’t continue to park where they feel like anyway.

And the police, who are otherwise infamous for finding a reason to fine law-abiding motorists, do nothing to maintain order.

It’s as if they prey on the innocent and fear anyone in an expensive car.

It used to be that people would complain about the obnoxious drivers of luxury vehicles with special license plates or blue sirens on their roofs.

But as the number of cars on Ukrainian roads increases exponentially along with disposable wealth, so does the number of negligent drivers.

It’s nice to see Ukrainians enjoying a little freedom.

Freedom, however, comes with responsibility.

One of the biggest surprises for analysts of the eastern bloc was how quickly people here seemed to go from being Communist robots to cut-throat capitalists.

Clearly, the cold war created some pretty inaccurate stereotypes.

Society in Ukraine and other East-bloc countries is indeed changing, but cultural values are more persistent than one might think.

Judging from the last 15 odd years of independence, it appears that many people in former Communist societies don’t want to make the rules of the game more fair, but rather to enjoy the unbridled privileges of the elite.

The shifting scene of Ukraine’s roads nicely reflects transformations in the nation as a whole.

Ukrainians appear to see car ownership as a release from all the rules of public transportation without considering the new obligations involved.

Public transportation is for pensioners, alcoholics and those who are still trying to find a way to finance a Western lifestyle.

Private cars are for those intent on expressing their identities long suppressed by Soviet society.

Not all drivers in Kyiv are obnoxious, but road bullies are the single negative impression that almost every visitor complains about.

The same analogy of unleashed individualism could be made about housing in Kyiv as well – the rich snatch up pristine reserves to build their mansions, the poor remain in slumping blocs of flats, and the slowly emerging middle class takes out bank loans to afford new apartments.

It’s precisely this rising middle class that offers the most hope.

They work hard and raise families, whom they don’t want to see run down at an intersection.

Once someone owns property he is more likely to respect the property of others.

Insurance companies will also become more common, offering compensation for loss and lobbying better legislation.

But this transformation in ownership and attitude is going to take time.

More importantly, it’s going to have to be anchored in law.

As it stands now, Ukraine’s lawmakers are often the biggest offenders.

The absence of respect for the law, or rules in general, is in fact the heart of the problem.

The way people drive is just a reflection of their overall attitudes toward rules.

Sure, there are plenty of obnoxious drivers in America, and the country’s love affair with the car is symptomatic of questionable individualism and consumerism in itself, but violators are caught and punished.

As Ukrainians buy and use more cars, the laws in the country are going to have to change and be enforced. In the mean time, what a great idea to develop more public transportation.

Besides the environmental concerns, Kyiv’s infrastructure was just not designed for so many autos.

Many European countries have already started investing in more trains and trolleys.

As Ukrainians continue to embrace greater integration with Europe, they might reflect on how important civil society and legislators were in creating modern European society.

My feeling is that many younger Ukrainians are already beginning to change their attitudes.

On the other hand, some features of Soviet society, such as reliance on public transportation, are proving to be more progressive than many still believe.

If Kyiv really wants to show off in 2012, a good start would be more decent public transportation and a little more courtesy on the part of drivers of private cars.

Source: Eurasian Home


david said…
Drivers wearing a seat belt would be a start.