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Pedestrian Hazards, Korea

Pedestrian Hazards, Korea

When using public transit, you will have to walk a little. Following are some of the things you should watch out for when walking. In Korea’s Confucian-oriented society, those with engines outrank those on foot (or engine-less). Note also that there are regulations that are directed specifically at pedestrians (see jaywalking below).

Red lights
It seems that red traffic lights are still merely suggestions for some drivers, although this situation has much improved in recent years. The main offenders are taxis and buses, however there are many instances where all traffic just keeps on going. Be careful when you take off from a green light that there is no traffic coming the other way.

Pedestrians must cross the street at a crosswalk and if there is a traffic/pedestrian light, only when the light allows pedestrian crossing. A person walking accross the street illegally (jaywalking) is subject to a ticket and fine. At the time of this posting, the fine for jaywalking at a crosswalk is W20,000 or W30,000 for crossing a road/street not at the crosswalk. The fine payment deadline will be shown on the ticket. Late payments will result in an increase of the fine. Payments can be made in person at a bank or via online banking. Images and info (in Korean) here.

Crosswalks / pedestrian crossings
This is also another trap for newcomers. Check that traffic has stopped before you step off the curb; just because there walk light has turned GREEN does not mean that the traffic has stopped. Quite often traffic will continue for at least a few cars or one bus once they have been given the RED light to stop.
*Pedestrian crossings are often placed one to two car lengths back from the light/intersection, which means that vehicles that stop in front of the crossing may have to wait a few seconds until all the pedestrians have gotten across before they can proceed on the green light. In impatient Korea, this is waaaay too long to wait. So, cars, taxis and buses, will try to get to the other side of the crossing as the light turns red in order to be ready for takeoff the second the light is green……sometimes the split second before. So, even though you see the little green man  - which is your signal to start walking across, look to make sure a speeding bullet in the shape of a car or bus isn’t heading toward you.

Flashing pedestrian green light
Your signal to cross comes in the shape of a green man at most crossings. At a wider intersection, the man will begin flashing immediately, while at others it will happen a few seconds later. If you’re new to Korea or haven’t been at that crossing before, best not to venture forth when the light is flashing as it is meant to indicate that the light could change soon. Once you know the area, you’ll be able to calculate how much time you really have. In parts of Seoul and other areas around the country, new pedestrian cross are being installed that show how many seconds you have left on the light. Once the traffic light green, it’s often like a race with the waiting cars all brace to see who takes off first. Beware the unwary pedestrian. 

Amber light
Amber lights are like a hiccup between the green and red lights, meaning they last a couple of seconds only. The light is green, then there is a flash of amber before it goes to red. It’s no wonder sometimes that drivers don’t stop fast enough – especially as Seoul drivers do tend to have lead feet.

Taxi pick-up/drop-off stops
Seoul taxi drivers appear to have a strong aversion to getting too near the curb. When someone flags them down, they either stop right there in the traffic lane or pull slightly to the right – never mind that there may be cars behind them. If the drivers following are lucky, the taxi may indicate a right turn, but most often not. Same when they drop off passengers – you can expect to walk out or from your taxi to the curb so look carefully to make sure no car is driving to get past your taxi.

Passing on the right
Drivers generally try to avoid obstacles in their path, like a car stopped in front of them or not going fast enough, by getting around them. As a result, passing on the right is more the norm than the exception. If you are getting in or out of a taxi or bus, beware of the car who sees your bus or taxi as a mere obstacle to circumvent.

Turns – left or U
Left turns are not allowed at most major intersections leaving vehicles to either drive a number of city blocks to where they can make a legal U-turn or to go around the block. If a left-turn is allowed, it cannot be made on a green light only on a green turn light. This is why it is best to flag a taxi going in the direction you need to go to reach your destination – if you got it wrong, expect to either have the driver refuse to take you (he’ll point to the other side of the road usually) or to spend a lot of time and money turning around.

Recreational cycling is increasing in popularity all over Korea with governments also encouraging the practice. Some subway cars now accept bicycles. While this increase in cycling has many upsides, it does have a downside for pedestrians. Bicycles 'lanes' are often painted on sidewalks which means that pedestrians find themselves sharing space with cyclists of all ages, many of whom appear to be unaware that they are not alone on the sidewalk. Again, beware the unwary pedestrian - especially if s/he and/or the cyclist are both 'deaf' to traffic sounds because they're listening to their iPod, etc.

K4E Editor's Note: Korea4Expats.com wants to provide you with as complete and accurate information as possible, so should you find any errors or omissions in the contents above please let us know at info@korea4expats.com

Last Updated on 2017-03-15

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