Baku Traffic Reviews
Aug 04, 2007
While I love being in Azerbaijan, the most infuriating thing is the traffic. I have driven in California, Las Vegas, China and Thailand and while I consider each place to be a little crazy in the area of driver safety, they pale in comparison to Azerbaijan. I will not drive here. I wanted to buy a bike but after careful consideration I decided that crossing the street was dangerous enough. The last thing I need to be is an easy target on a bike for an Azeri driver with a vendetta.
I should point out before going any further, Azerbaijan is a country that has very recently came into a vast amount of money from its oil industry. Therefore, there are many people with new found wealth. As in the West with one's auto being a symbol of prestige, so too here. Many of the drivers in Baku are the first people in their family to have a car. Inexperience plays a big part. In addition, Baku is where most people from the country move to for better paying jobs and greater opportunities therefore there are more drivers on the road. With the inexperienced drivers coupled with many more drivers taking the road, you are really looking at a traffic nightmare.
First, if you ever come here, it is very rare for a driver to give the pedestrian the right of way. Do not assume that the driver will just do the same thing they do in the USA and let you cross the street. The general rule is whoever is bigger has the right of way. Even if you have safely crossed halfway across the street and are patiently waiting for the car that is blocking your path to move, do not be surprised if the car behind it to swerve right into the area of where you are standing.
Second, drivers do not always follow the direction of one way traffic. It is not uncommon for some drivers to take a "shortcut" against the flow if the road is open. As pedestrian, it is important to know this. In elementary school some of us were taught to look left, right and then left again before crossing the street. Here, you should be looking both ways as you cross the street. This might make you look paranoid with your head and eyes moving back forth rapidly , but it is better to be alive with a look of paranoia than it is to be dead with a content look on your face.
Third, lanes do not mean anything. All that matters is how many cars can fit on the road. There are some very wide roads in Baku. One time I counted six Ladas next to one another speeding down a three lane street.
Fourth, it is not uncommon for drivers to make a two or three lane turn. You do have to be on the lookout whenever you cross the street here.
Fifth, drivers here love their horns. I always imagine a new driver saying to himself, "Hmmmmm...what is this? It makes a noise. I swear to use this new found wonderment of joy at any and all opportunities." In honor of this love affair, I was inspired to write a poem with apologies to Dr. Seuss and my muses Charles Bukowski and Hubert Selby.
The car horn is Baku’s new found toy
To the Azerbaijani driver it brings much joy
They honk it when they’re very mad
They honk it when they’re extremely sad
They honk it when they want to say hello
They honk it when they want you to go
They honk it when you cross the street
They honk it no matter how quick your feet
They honk it when they’re running late
They honk it when they’ve got a date.
They honk it if they think you might be lying
They honk if the car in front has wrecked and the passengers are dying
They honk it when they think they’re a little hungry
They honk it when they think they see Coach Dungy
(Hmmmm....what is he doing in Baku?
Golly Gee, I really wish I knew.)
Honking your horn all of the time is not really cool.
I wish they would teach that in Azeri Driving School.
(FYI, Coach Dungy is the coach of my favorite American football team and Super Bowl Champs Indianapolis Colts. And I am not a bandwagon fan either.)
Cheesiness aside, if you do visit here and have to take a taxi, check to make sure it has seat belts. There are many taxis and cars here that do not have any. Sit in the back as taxi drivers tend to be the craziest drivers in any of the regions and there is a greater chance that the taxi driver will rear-end someone than someone to rear-end the car you are in, unless you are being followed by a taxi. Also, make sure that you get the price for the cab ride before entering the car. Foreigners are generally charged more and it is best to negotiate the price before entering the cab.
Ironically, I have not seen too many accidents here, but I do not spend that much time on the road unless I have to and tend to walk everywhere that I can. I also find it ironic that while drivers tend to be in a big hurry, most pedestrians walk very slowly. Maybe being a Westerner, I tend to walk quickly or maybe I am just hyper, but that is the way things are here.
Finally, as bad as this may have sounded, it should not steer someone away from visiting here. No matter where you go in life you find things that you love about a place and things that you will dislike about it. You have to take the bad with the good. Also, the country is building a major bypass in and around Baku which should alleviate some of the traffic problem.
Part of the An American in Azerbaijan travel blog
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