Secondments in Košice and its Driving Culture
More than half a year has already passed after my time in Slovakia, where I was working intensively on the concept of my research project. That time brought new experiences and many warm memories. Košice is a unique hub of history, art, and culture, and also the largest city of eastern Slovakia. I was lucky enough to spend time there during both my secondments. The first one was within the UPJŠ, while the second under the SAS. Both secondments were filled with various academic and cultural activities, which were beneficial for my project research and professional development. Košice has a lot to offer from interesting architecture, museums to various cultural events and festivals within the city and in its surrounding areas. There are plenty of articles and publications on the richness of history, traditions, and exciting places to see. For me, my time in Slovakia left beautiful moments and memories because of warm and friendly people who were always ready to help, even though they do not all speak English in eastern Slovakia. Despite that, Košice differs from other small and large Slovak cities and towns with its driving culture.
It can be challenging or just simply scary to cross the streets in some parts of the city. No doubt about it, green and red both exist on the traffic lights, and the red signal of the traffic light is not usually ignored by the drivers. You might wonder what else is needed. There are also pedestrian areas, sidewalks, and pedestrian crossings as in the majority of European cities today. Normal places that were created for pedestrians to cross streets and roads, where you can safely cross a flow of traffic. The main word here is safety. I believe no one would argue that a safe crossing from one side to another is essential not only in the central parts of cities, where the intensive traffic most commonly is. Each pedestrian would probably argue that this is a common right.
From my sight and a few discussions with friends and colleagues, I got the impression that the pedestrian crossings are somehow created to hinder the lives of drivers in Košice. They do not feel a need to stop, or it might be they do not see the signs or pedestrians. It is still a mystery for me after more than a half a year there. The worst pedestrian crossing in my life was not far from my flat near Okresný Úrad. That area is not too far from the historical centre and has an interesting urban planning from the Soviet time. Next to Okresný Úrad, there is a huge crossroads of Watsonova and Komenského as the road Watsonova is huge and essential for the city. Of course, it has a traffic light to let many residents pass it on their way. The red light is quite long as it gives the pedestrian enough time to think about the day and see all surrounding buildings in detail. Only one point should be kept in mind while crossing Watsonova road, it is slightly different with Komenského. If you turn your head and it is already green, you have 2 or 3 seconds to pass it as altogether you will have less than 10 seconds (maybe 6 or 7, but there is no time for counting or you will miss your turn). I had the chance to see how families with small kids and women in a wheelchair passed this road. Those races I will not forget for sure. This road taught me that sometimes contemporary urbanism should not only be about documentation and ambitious planning but about human steps, too.
Text and photo: Aliaksandr Shuba