The Ocean City boardwalk is divided up into four designated lanes: Runners, Bicycles, Surreys, and Pedestrians. The streets in China’s cities are divided into three lanes: Cars, Bicycles/Motor Scooters, and Pedestrians.
In both, only a few pay any attention to the divisions.
On the Ocean City boardwalk, runners and cyclists go where they please, weaving in-and-out among everyone else. Surreys usually stay where they belong because the boards in that section extend in the direction of travel, so the ride is smoother. Oblivious pedestrians wander over all of the lanes without concern as if they are in their own living rooms. They are all potential customers of the boardwalk stores, and no one is going to hamper them.
In China, cars go into the bicycle lanes and even park on the sidewalks. While walking on the sidewalk, cars will often approach from behind and beep for you to move over. Bicycles and motor scooters go all over. J-walking is standard. There is nowhere pedestrians feel safe, so they cross wherever is convenient. The traffic lights at the corners show walking green men to indicate pedestrian crossing, but this attempt at organization is largely ignored by everyone, who considers them more of a suggestion than a law. Our China guide explained, tongue-in-cheek, most drivers think traffic lights are leftover green and red Christmas decorations. Lights on any of the vehicles seems voluntary, even at night, and many do not use them. At night, the streets are much darker than we expect, but even more people are out and about, their bikes and scooters silently fading in and out of the shadows. The apparent chaos seems surprising in a highly regulated society, but the streets are the only place where everyone can expresses their individuality.
The Chinese system does seem to work. Nowhere do you see signs of injury, the prevalent bandages and crutches you would expect, nowhere the wail of ambulances taking away the maimed. As in many places, the traffic seems chaotic to a visitor, but there is an unwritten code that the natives all know and are following.
The traffic system on the Ocean City boardwalk also works. When everyone expects chaos, everyone is careful. I have never seen an pedestrian or cyclist injured there. Only when we expect others to follow the rules do we have accidents. I kid you not.