Thursday, May 13, 2010

Girl racers

In one of my early posts on here, I commented on how poor the eyesight of most Chinese is.

This causes vexing - and, indeed, sometimes potentially injurious - problems not just with drivers, but with cyclists and pedestrians also. This is perhaps one of the few countries in the world where someone will walk into you from behind - and react as if it's your fault.

It's happened to me twice in the last few days; on Monday, it happened at the gate of my apartment complex....

In motor racing, the shortest line through a corner is not necessarily the quickest. In most cases, a driver will move to the outside of the track approaching a corner, cutting to the inside through the middle (often, indeed, grazing the kerb as he comes through the apex), and running wide to the very edge of the track (or off track, on to the kerbing) at the exit. Keeping a straighter line through the corner (and perhaps having a slightly shallower angle of turn-in) allows you to maintain a higher speed, and this more than compensates for the fact that you're having to cover a rather greater distance over the track. Hence, that outside-inside-outside pattern for taking corners is usually preferred. In a few corners, though, it can be a bit of a toss-up: hugging the inside line all the way around may save so much in track distance that it's worth the greater loss of speed - or at least it gives you the opportunity to block a car attempting to get by you by taking a faster line.

Of course, it's annoying to find a slower car hogging the inside of the track through the middle of a corner, but...... you really shouldn't run into it from behind.

These observations, of course, only apply to motor racing - not to regular driving, or to cycling, or to walking.

Yet the young Chinese woman walking just ahead of me on Monday morning moved towards the right as she approached the gate of our building - as if she were going to turn right into the lane - but then suddenly veered across to the left, evidently intent on just creasing the rear corner of the car parked immediately outside with her dress as she turned the corner. It was unfortunate that by this time I had overtaken her up the inside, and was rounding the edge of the obstructive parked car myself. She was extremely surprised and displeased to find me 'blocking' her 'faster line' - and ran right into me.

I'm sure the stewards would deem it "a racing accident".


JES said...

Can't say it's really a hobby of mine, but I do enjoy reading about the behavior of pedestrians on city streets (and in malls, etc.).

When I was a youngster, a sadistic one (i.e., jerk) at that, and after I'd first read about common non-verbal cues like glancing one way or the other depending on which way you plan to zigzag out of the way of an oncoming pedestrian, a few times I experimented with intentionally doing the OPPOSITE. Got quite a laugh from watching how confused people would become. (Few of them laughed along with me.)

Peripherally related both to this post and to the one over on the Barstool about Beijing traffic jams... Can't remember where I read this, but some esoteric mathematical analysis of highway traffic once concluded that highway traffic could be characterized as following roughly the same general paths and behaviors as schools of fish. Wonder if anyone's ever done the same thing for pedestrians?

Froog said...

The school of fish analogy is interesting - although I'd think it must be rather slowed down: there's a perceptible (often unnecessarily LONG) time-lag in a driver's response to what's happening in front of him, especially with stopping and starting.

With fish, the changes in speed and direction are so fast - often seemingly simultaneous - that some scientists, I believe, have tried to investigate whether it's not simply a reaction to sensory stimuli from the other fish around them, but some more subtle, unknown form of communication - perhaps even some kind of telepathy or collective consciousness.

When I first visited China in the 1990s, it was still The Land Of Bicylcles - and I rather fancied then that there was some kind of collective will in the patterns of movement of hundreds of bicycles (very, very close together, and all trundling along at near identical speed), not unlike fish. It was an image I used in this early haiku.