Traffic in Moscow is vicious. I'm not talking mean New York or space cadet DC. I'm talking vicious – pedestrians have NO RIGHTS. If you cross the street and you are hit by a car, the driver is likely to jump out and demand payment for the dent in his fender the size of you. Yes, I'm exaggerating. A little. Infrequent traffic lights and rare crosswalks where cars are supposed to stop but don't. Sometimes a few do. And sometimes they don't. One spring afternoon, two children were crossing the street at a crosswalk to go to school. All the cars stopped but one. The driver was going fast enough to kill one of the children.
The common way to cross the street in Moscow is to wait until traffic is gridlocked, take a deep breath, dart between the bumpers and hope for the best. An experienced friend safely zipped across the street this way, but the woman a half step behind him got hit. When he looked back, the car had stopped where she fell. Another friend looked out her window onto Tverskaya, one of the main drags, and saw a body lying there. It wasn't removed for several hours. I wouldn't say these are common occurrences, but if you're a neophte, it's best to stand shoulder to shoulder with a Russian and cross using him or her as a body shield.
Sometimes the planned traffic patterns make it difficult for pedestrians. We took visiting relatives for a boat ride along the Moscow River. As we emerged from the Kievskaya Metro, the weather darkened. We dashed through a break in two lanes of traffic and ran up and down the river looking for the dock. The damp clouds began to drip. We finally found the kasa (the cashier), bought tickets and zipped onto the boat just as the heavens opened. Even with all passengers crowded below decks, this was a delightful trip. From the river, the view of the Church of Christ the Savior and the Kremlin is an old world postcard. We disembarked at the stone steps by the old Hotel Russia (in the process of having all 7,000 rooms razed).
We walked up the stone steps from the river. The crosswalk led us across four lanes of busy traffic to the center of a T. The vertical stroke of the T does not meet to a median strip, but to a small painted triangle in the middle of four more lanes of roaring traffic. From there, we waited for traffic to ease up enough to race across to one side, all the while screaming, "This is crazy. This is crazy"!
Another danger in Moscow comes from drivers on the sidewalks. I always felt I wouldn't mind so much being run over on the street, but to be run over on the sidewalk, would be a personal insult. Because parking is so limited and traffic so dense, drivers often pull up on the sidewalk to park. Since there may be kiosks and cars on the sidewalk, drivers may decide to drive along it until they find a space big enough for a car. There is not always room for both the moving vehicle and the walker, so it is a good idea, when faced with on-coming traffic, to squeeze against a building.
People ask me to name the biggest difference between Moscow and the US. Among the top few, I have to say it's the traffic – intense and unrestrained.