Стиль жизни

Expat View: The life and times of a Motorist in Moscow

русская версия | english version

Although, in between

all the complaining and jostling for position to try and get out of the traffic jam a few seconds before the guy next to you, life in the car does have its good moments in Moscow.

Russians, I’ve noticed, really do like their cars. I personally drive a car which only car geeks would recognize as being out of the ordinary, and I’ve been surprised how many times a fellow motorist would roll down his window to ask questions or even give a compliment. The guys at the fuel station will reach for the 98 octane without asking, too. All this makes a car lunatic like myself feel right at home. I’d like to thank Moscow for that.

Of course, I do have my complaints. To tell you the truth, once I start complaining it might be difficult to stop, so I have to be careful here. It’s just that Moscow could be a pretty good place to be a car enthusiast if only some of Russia’s incomprehensibly silly road policies would be changed. Of course, nothing is going to change by writing about it, so just consider it part of our group therapy session.

First and foremost, what on earth is up with the red lights in this country. Traffic jams are blamed on the fact that there’s just too many cars around, which is evidently true, but things would be so much better if only Moscow’s traffic lights were not all doing their own thing without a hint of synchronisation. The technology to improve traffic flow by making red lights work together has been around for many decades, but it’s completely missing here, and the issue continues to be ignored. When the light in front of you finally turns green, odds are you still won’t get very far because a red light just ahead is still red and there’s a traffic jam in front of that one, too. It’s completely bonkers.

What also doesn’t help, of course, is everyone piling into an intersection when there is clearly nowhere to go, thus blocking traffic and creating total gridlock. I’ve been receiving some unwanted mail from the police recently, who sent me lovely pictures of my car taken by automated speed cameras. I suggest they put these kind of cameras on intersections as red light cameras and start sending out steep fines to anyone who runs through a red light. Wouldn’t be a bad thing for road safety, either.

Traffic jams aside, what really gets my blood pressure up is anything that makes my car dirty. So Moscow probably isn’t the best place to live if I want to maximize my life expectancy. What the bleeping bleep is up with all the sand on the roads here?

I know, it gets cold here and it snows. And when it does snow, the good people who clear the snow and improve road safety by making the snow melt are using a combination of salt and sand. At least, that’s what it appears to be. In winter, we’re often driving through a sort of liquid mud which will turn your car from shiny showroom condition to «just finished the Paris Dakar rally» in about two seconds. It gets cold and snows in many places of the world, and nowhere else do they resort to throwing sand onto the roads in these amounts. Just stop doing that, please!

Each winter, the center of Moscow becomes a gigantic mud bath for our precious cars.

Putting all that sand on the road also has the side effect that, once winter passes, there’s still a lot of sand and dust staying behind. So what happens next is these traffic-obstructing water trucks being sent out for the sake of «cleaning» the roads and reducing dust being thrown in the air. I would say they don’t clean the road so much as help the transfer of dirt from the road onto your car. I’m sure you know how it feels to be out on a nice dry and sunny day, fresh from the car wash, and come across these orange terrorist vehicles who are watering the roads. All it really does is make your car dirty and the roads wet, and a wet road has less grip thereby increasing the chances of an accident.

The nightmare of everyone who has recently visited a car wash.

We’ve been in the 21st century for a while now, and it’s high time that Russia stops doing these silly things to its roads. It’s not necessary, just look anywhere else! I suspect that someone started these things at one point in the distant past, and no-one has since then asked the question whether or not it actually makes sense. Top tip: it doesn’t. Somebody please save us from this madness.

The harsh climate does have its benefits, I believe, when it comes to driving skill. At least everyone here is used to driving on snow and ice. I can tell you, whenever it snowed in my home country, it effectively came to a standstill because people were driving on summer tires and were otherwise incapable of driving their vehicle on a slippery surface. Personally, I absolutely love driving on snow. You get to slide around a bit and you can actually drive the car. Within ones own limits, driving becomes a bit more of a challenge even at speeds that are low enough to be safe and the journey is a lot less boring. For driving pleasure, let it snow! Not all the time, of course, but it’s definitely something that makes winter a bit more bearable for me.

Studded tires work great on ice. On a paved road, not so much.

The only tip I would like to give here is that people who drive around Moscow really shouldn’t buy winter tires with metal studs in them. Even in winter, Moscow’s road are not covered in snow or ice, and a studded tire has a lot less grip on dry or wet asphalt. You’re just making your car less safe with them most of the time, plus they absolutely kill the road surface. Many countries don’t even allow these types of tire to be used except in certain conditions.

Having spent considerable time in Paris, it’s also noticeable that Moscovites manage to park their cars pretty well without hitting yours. You wouldn’t leave your shiny expensive car parked on a Paris street, not unless you actually owned a shop that removes dents and scratches. Dare I say it, people here seem pretty careful when it comes to parking. Speaking of which, I really love that phone app that lets me pay for public parking in Moscow. If only there were enough parking spots where I could use it. Maybe if they actually started towing away cars with intentionally obscured license plates, I’d have some more space to put my car and pay for it fair and square.

I do find Moscow to be a city where I want to buy a specific kind of car. First of all, it needs to have a great interior and sound system, as you’ll be spending plenty of time in it standing still.

If you like the feeling of speed, you have to accept the fact that you can only have fun for a very short time between zero and less-than-a-hundred km/h. So you end up looking at things like a GT-R, R8 V10 or 911 Turbo which have 4-wheel drive and insane acceleration forces from a stop.

There’s also the slight issue of ride quality, as the road surface isn’t exactly smooth most of the time. As much as I’d like to buy the sportiest possible car, you don’t want to break your back. Manual transmissions are difficult to live with as well. I imagine my left leg would no longer fit my trousers after driving certain sportscars with a manual gearbox around Moscow for a while.

Some things we’ll just have to dream about, as we wait for the red light to turn green 2 miles away.




17 ноября 2014
Jan Coomans для раздела Стиль жизни