Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Pasarela


Many times there is just no choice.  You just have to suck it up, be brave, make eye-contact, and cross to the middle. From there you just have to suck it in, steady your nerves, and wait for a break.  I'll confess, I am not too proud to play the "helpless gringa" card if I am caught in a particularly snarly street-crossing situation.  With a smile and a wave I can usually still stop traffic.

Sometimes, there is a better choice:  use the pasarela.

"What is a pasarela?" you ask.  Well, if you google translate this term you might call it a "runway" or "catwalk."  "Catwalk" is a pretty good description.  In El Salvador, a pasarela is the walkway which pedestrians use to get across busy streets.  Typically, pasarelas require the user to ascend 2 or 3 flights of stairs, walk across the catwalk and then descend 2 or 3 flights of stairs on the opposite side of the road.

Now, as you might imagine, climbing up a bunch of stairs in 90°F sun or 85°F pouring down rain (the two basic seasonal options in El Salvador) is not exactly on most people's list of favorite things to do before catching the bus to work or school.  In the city, when traffic is moving at a snail's pace, pedestrians forego the pasarela  and snake their way across the road, weaving between between cars and trucks and keeping watch for the darting motorcyclists.


Depending on the location, pasarela stairs can be steep, open and just plain scary.  In places where buildings, concrete walls, and bus stops surround the base of the pasarela,  ascending or descending the stairs in shadow and seclusion can feel quite unsafe.  And in some neighborhoods, finding oneself enclosed on a catwalk simply does not seem like a good idea.


Last year 577 pedestrians were killed on El Salvador streets.  Most families have a story about some family member being hit and injured or killed while crossing a busy street.  Anyone who drives or rides around El Salvador has certainly seen close calls, and has certainly wondered at the wisdom of a mom with two kids in tow running across 2 lanes of highway, climbing on top of the Jersey barriers in the middle, waiting, and then running across the other two lanes.  Pasarelas can save lives.  Especially in locations where traffic moves swiftly or erratically, where lighting is poor, and where there are no medians, pasarelas are really beneficial.

Clearly the placement of pasarelas is a challenge.  When a busy road or highway cuts through a community, and the nearest crossing point is 2 miles in either direction, there is a problem.  This is especially difficult for children who need to get to their community school which lies on the opposite side of a highway.  One choice is to pay a micro-bus to drive a child up the highway, make a u-turn at the nearest retorno, and drive back down the highway.  That costs money.  Another choice is to walk a couple of miles to the nearest crossing, and walk back a couple of miles to the school.  That is not realistic.  The common choice is to run across 2 lanes, climb the barriers, and run across the other two lanes.


In some places, pasarelas provide shelter for streetside vendors (I walk past a woman with a little pupusa stand under a very under-used pasarela on my way to the church offices each day).  During a march or demonstration, the pasarela can provide a great vantage point from which to snap a few photos of the crowd (with a caution of safety - I once saw a group of US teens hanging off of the outside "cage" of a pasarela to take photos).

August 6, 2016 Lutheran Church March
The next time you are in El Salvador, keep your camera at the ready and grab a shot of your favorite pasarela - and, when crossing streets, please be smart!