Finding Community in Traffic

Submitted by Allen Zeesman on January 17, 2012 - 12:32pm
Community in places one may not suspect

If you ever come to visit me in my hometown -- San Miguel de Allende, Mexico -- not only will I welcome you with open arms and show you around town, but there is something unusual you will notice right away. There are no stop signs or traffic lights in San Miguel.

Huh? How does that work? Well it works very well in fact. The "rule" in San Miguel is as one pulls up to a corner, each person gets their turn to cross or turn. So drivers in San Miguel have to do something very unusual -- they have to actually pay attention to the other drivers in the street. The first thing that happens at a corner is you have make eye contact with the other driver. One has to signal to the other that its o.k. for them to proceed. This is almost always followed by a polite nod of the head, wave of the hand and smile that says thank you.

Does it always work? Of course not. Sometimes the signals are not as clear as they should be and two people pull into the intersesction. Typical result -- they both smile profusely at each other offering the other to go first.

Sometimes people forget. Sometimes people will notice that some person who clearly should have waited did not. Most of the time, we just let go. Once in a while the driver who should have gone first will give a small honk of the horn, a hand motion indicating that it was his turn and the two palms-up signal that says "so what's up?". This is followed by a sheepish grin by the offender, perhaps the two hands to the chin motion with a slight bow begging forgiveness all of which is topped off by an "its o.k. but don't do it again" shrug from the driver suffering from the offence.

There is no road rage. Not ever. My wife was in a taxicab who unfortunately had a small fender bender with another cab. She was very concerned about what was going to happen next. As the two cab drivers emerged from the cabs to "confront" each other, she could not hear what they were saying, but she was still sitting in the car 5 minutes later as they were having a pleasant joking around conversation about something or other. She eventually got out of the cab in effect saying "what about me?". They immediately set off to flag down another cab for her and wished her un buen dia.

Is this about Mexican culture? I suppose so. But I have noticed that a large portion of offenders (there are not that many) tend to have license plates from Mexico City. Those chilangos!! (Mexcian feelings about chilangos -- people from Mexico City -- are comparable to Canadian feelings about people from Toronto). But also, San Miguel de Allende is a 450 year old colonial town -- UNESCO heritage site -- with narrow cobblestone streets. There is no choice but to go slow. At the entrance of town there is a sign announcing a speed limit of 20 kilometres an hour. Not much chance you will ever get to go that fast! There are lots of opportunities for speed in Mexico City.

We know that speed kills. But do we realise how much speed kills community? How much a difference would slowing down make in your community? 




Friends of our have been to San Miquel and just loved it. They said "hey you must go, it is one of the greatest places on earth."

How lovely and will for sure make that a priority, especially now that you are there.

Much joy and again thanks for this great blog. I want to learn so much more about community in your life and this fascinating place you live.


What a great story about community. Using the lack of stop signs and traffic lights and letting this be the entry way into slowing down and getting to know each. It changes the very dynamic of those involved in the activity of driving. We look out for each other. If we do not we are all in danger..just love it!

And YES count me in on a visit very soon!

I agree, great example! I

I agree, great example! I thought it was particularly interesting that you acknowleged that this might be (in a small way) part of Mexican cultural - but that it is mostly grounded in place.. a community driven-local culture.

The example of the taxi driver interchange makes me think about habits of interpersonal exchanges - and how engaging with others (even in moments of conflict and car accidents) can be influenced by community habits and local expectations about how we are with each other.

Thanks for sharing!

Tracy Smyth