Mexico City -The Grid of Confusion

By: Lisa Coleman 

As much as I love Mexico City, I’ll never drive there. I mean NEVER. I truly respect those Chilango taxi drivers that have grown up in the city and can navigate the hodgepodge, jam packed,  stop-and-go grid with relative ease, but my guess is they’re lost sometimes too!

I read a very entertaining article by Ken Ellingwood of the Los Angeles Times that brought to light some interesting traffic stats. Apparently there are 32,000 streets in Mexico City itself. If you include the surrounding areas, it tops out at 73,000. That’s one hell of a mapping dilemma. To make it more challenging, street names are often repeated, but not necessarily in the same parts of the city.  How about 632 streets named “Juarez,” 624 “Hildago” streets and at least 500 named “Zapata.”

Some taxis (luckily) are now equipped with GPS systems to help ease the pain… yet that tends to complicate the problem. Watch them plug in Juarez and see hundreds of entries pop up and then subdivided by postal code. It’s somewhat of a navigational nightmare!

That said… I can only offer a few tidbits of advice about driving in Mexico City… don’t. Unless you have a wicked sense of adventure and speak fluent Spanish, I’d take it off the list. Next,  upon arrival at the Mexico City airport, ALWAYS get your taxi ticket inside baggage claim. There’s a small booth in there and you can give them the name and address of your hotel and they will be sure you get to the right place. As you exit baggage claim, display your little ticke prominently so you are escorted to the taxi area by some nice guys looking to carry your bags and deposit you in the correct car. And finally, don’t take taxis on the street. Though it looks easy to jump into a green VW and be on your way, it’s just not safe for tourists. Step into a restaurant or hotel and ask them to call a “radio” taxi for you.

Other than that… go to Juarez Street, turn left on to Hildago and I’ll see you at the end of Zapata! Travel safely.

2 thoughts on “Mexico City -The Grid of Confusion”

  1. I have been going to Mexico City since 1983. While I have never driven in Mexico City, except by accident last year while trying to find my way through Texcoco et al, (we finally paid a taxista to guide us to the Mexiquense cuota), I have observed from taxi windows.

    The worst traffic I have seen is not in DF itself. But, on Hwy 136 and 190 in the Texcoco area. I have found a route from the Puebla-Mexico cuota out via Circuito Exterior Mexiquense cuota. Before they started construction on 136, it was one hour from cuota to cuota.

    To my surprise, I handle it very well. Partly because of many hours over the years looking out taxi windows in DF until I began to understand what was happening.

    In rural Iowa or Nebraska, if you enter from the ramp with five or six car lengths between you and a car or truck, the highway patrol will stop you and cuss you out. It happened to my son.

    In Chicago on the Tollway, it is not uncommon to enter with only 5 or 6 feet. As long as everyone is used to it, all is well. A country driver is going to be scared to death.

    In DF, they routinely merge with 12 or 18 inches, so small it takes a long time to detect the gap at all. I say this because I took a long time in those taxis to detect it. :) So, outsiders freak out and have a wreck.

    The second reason I did well is because I do something a lot of well-meaning people tell me is terribly wrong. I BRAKE WITH MY LEFT FOOT!

    My feet are large, and I have even been known to hit the steering column down there, which does not make for good driving.

    I started this in 1973 when I first got an automatic, and in those 35 years have driven a manual once, a VW Beetle in the state of Vera Cruz for a couple hundred yards.

    I do not ride the brake, but my foot is there, and my response time is very low. I could not drive in that traffic without a wreck if I had to move my right foot back and forth all the time.

    Warning: like many things one must develop the left-foot braking over a time to get it as a reflex. A minimum of several weeks are needed. So, don’t think you can start braking left-footed as you enter DF. :)

    There is another factor. Each country has its own driving culture. When I started driving in Mexico a couple years ago, I had a lot of close calls, which is not a good idea.

    As time passed, I began to know what was going to happen before it did, and now there are few unexpected events.

    So, the only reason I don’t drive all the way into DF is because I don’t know where I am going. If I did, I would go for it.

    Note this involves a lot of years of observation. I cannot recommend anyone without that experience try it.

  2. On taxis, that is good advice for new visitors to Mexico City. With experience, as with many things, one learns. My wife and I have taken off from our house near San Cosme with several thousand dollars worth of pesos in my Bean Bag, flagged down a street taxi, and it had a flat tire on the way to TAPO. So, we jumped out and flagged another.

    The only time we had any problem was with a sitio taxi, he tried to charge us double.

    The radio taxi is certainly maximum safety and that is always good for newbies in the city. Good advice.

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