When I walked below 26th street on the West Side, aka The Blackout Zone, I was brought back to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The lack of traffic lights is what did it. Although Phnom Penh does have traffic lights on some of its intersections, the Cambodians tend to ignore them, and the same pattern of traffic in Cambodia’s capital has now developed in lower Manhattan. A group of pedestrians, fulfilling a sort of threshold of critical mass, find that if they cross at the same time while keeping one eye on approaching traffic, they can temporarily stop the flow of cars. This is possible because no driver is driving over 20 miles per hour, and drivers have time to react. The drivers can no longer impatiently race to the next red light (that scene from Meet the Fokkers comes to mind). They are mindful of not just pedestrians, but cars creeping out in front of them at every intersection. It’s amazing how fast the city has settled into this pattern. I can almost taste the palm wine and the banana blossom salad.
As fascinating as this is, I hope that power will return soon to lower NYC. Let the drivers race to the next red light as they have always done. Never thought I’d say that.