Impossible but true: a city without traffic lights

One of the most striking things about this small city of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, is that there are no traffic lights or stop signs in the whole city. How can that be?

By what we know and how we live traffic-wise in el norte, such a thing is impossible. Traffic lights and signs are a fact of life, a fundamental element of civilization. We need traffic lights to protect ourselves from ourselves. At a crossroads, how would you know who goes first? What would keep us from crashing into each other? How else to give pedestrians a break?

We accept as perfectly natural that without such amenities of civilized life as traffic aids we would naturally, people being what we are, be running each other over at a fearful rate.

Imagine Boston or even Hyannis without the guidance and structure of traffic lights. Recipe for disaster, right?

There is plenty of traffic here, a busy city of people trying to get where they need to get. Hundreds of little green taxis plying their trade. But there seems no competition to be the first into the intersection. The unspoken rule seems to be for automobiles, especially taxis, to defer to pedestrians, going so far as to wave us through, Pase le.

So what’s going on in San Miguel? what’s different? Only, it seems, people acting differently, putting into play different human qualities, different values, different assumptions. Tolerance. Patience. Deference. Respect for other people. Live and let live. Golden rule. And if the more stressed, entitled m.o. of the north make traffic aids seem natural, these more laid-back values and attitudes seem natural enough here. And seem to get the job done.

The irony of the old cautionary tale of the man who ”died maintaining his right of way” seems not to apply here.


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