Cars and pedestrians in European cities
Helsinki: We saw enough pedestrians going out of their way to not jaywalk that we wondered how strictly it was enforced. Cars all came to complete stops when they were told they should.
Rome: Stopping for pedestrians is like stopping at stop signs- mostly optional, but you should probably slow down. It was slightly alarming to watch a car slow down just enough to make a left turn, never coming to a complete stop despite the stop sign in front of him. It was very alarming to watch a bus do the same thing. My typical strategy for crossing the street involved looking carefully both ways, starting to walk across, noticing a car, and running the rest of the way.
Domodossola: Like Rome, only with far fewer cars.
Bern: Cars stopped completely for pedestrians. Not just on valid crosswalks either. If you were standing on the sidewalk looking like you wanted to cross the street, the car would come to a complete stop to let you. Pedestrians would usually only cross at marked crosswalks and only cross intersections when the little light said they could.
Aix Les Bains: If you stepped into the street, cars would stop for you. If you stopped at a crosswalk before stepping into the street, cars would speed up so they could pass before you did. It was less “my life is in danger” than Rome, but not as nice as Bern.
Geneva: Cars in Geneva behaved the same way cars in Bern did. Pedestrians did not. Basically, a pedestrian in Geneva can do whatever she wants and cars will stop for her. I didn't test this theory too much, but I did take advantage of it a few times.
Carry le Rouet; Like Aix Les Bains, but politer and quieter. Sometimes cars would stop if you were at a crosswalk waiting. Oh, and in any but the 3 biusiest streets, walking in the middle of the road was a valid strategy because there would be more cars parked on the curb than driving down the street.
Paris: There are two strategies for crossing the street in Paris. The first is to wait for the light to change to “walk” and only cross then. The second is to walk whenever you don't see cars coming. The second was actually a safer strategy, since it meant you wouldn't get run over by a car turning.
An alarming number of stories about crossing the street in Paris need to end with “and I did not get run over. For example:
“Today, there was a walk light, so I was crossing the street, and there was a bus that wanted to make a turn. So it did, but there were too many pedestrians crossing the road to let it through. It barely stopped in time, but I did not get run over.”
“Today, the walk light changed, and pedestrians started crossing, and one car turned right, and another car turned left. So there were two cars and many more pedestrians who were all headed towards the same point at the same time. I did not get run over.”
Final two challenges of crossing the street in Paris: there's no blinking light, just “walk” and “don't walk,” with no “you can start crossing the street now if you run” signal, and the instant the oncoming traffic gets a red light, the walk sign turns green. There's usually a pause while the pedestrians wait to make sure the cars are actually going to stop.
Luxembourg: After a week in Paris, it was really hard for me to tell what Luxembourg rules were like. However, I can confirm that jaywalkers are not always subject to life imprisonment, or even a fine. (At one point I wanted to cross a street. There was a car coming, but it was a fair distance away, so I crossed in front of it. When I reached the other side, I turned around and saw that it was a cop car. Oops.)
Brussels: After all the aimless wandering around Brussels I did, you'd think I'd be able to remember what traffic was like. I remember wandering back and forth between sides of the street a lot and never getting run over, and that's about all.
Amsterdam: Crossing the street was a long and complicated affair involving crossing a bicycle lane, a car lane, a tram line, another car lane, and finally another bicycle lane. Possibly bicycles posed the biggest threat, since, when we checked in, we were warned to stay out of bicycle lanes. After accidentally straying into their lane a few times, I can confirm that the bicycles are vicious. (I did not get run over.)