Visitors to Mexico City will remember many things about this vibrant metropolis: The Zócalo, the Diego Rivera murals at the Palacio Nacional, the incredible food...and the traffic. It's stunning – not just because of the sheer volume of cars on the road, but because of the drivers who regularly run red lights, clog busy intersections and generally disregard traffic laws and civic mores as they try to move around a city jammed with around 4 million cars and 20 million people.
"We just don't fit in this city anymore," says Viridiana Montes, a 22 year-old student working with the Mexican Institute of Youth to bring attention to traffic problems.
Which is why Peatónito, or the "Little Pedestrian," has taken it upon himself to save the day. Dressed in a black-and-white lucha libre mask and black cape (the colors of the crosswalk), he takes to the streets in a fight to make Mexico City citizens – and especially drivers – aware of pedestrian rights.
"There's a big lack of civic responsibility in Mexico City," Peatónito says. "People throw garbage in the streets, people don't respect other people, and we need to start it in one way. So I picked the topic of pedestrians, because the statistics told us that if I am going to die of something, the most probable thing is that I am going to die in an accident with a car."
He's right. According to the World Health Organization, more than 3,500 pedestrians are killed each year in Mexico; thousands more die in other collisions, placing it among the world's most dangerous countries for driving.
Part of the problem is systemic. Transit police are put in place to keep traffic moving and rarely enforce the rule of law. And not many police or drivers really know the laws anyway. In Mexico, drivers need only pay a fee in order to obtain their driver's licenses, because the exams that were once used to test drivers were shelved after examiners were caught accepting bribes.
So Peatónito takes the law book with him as he walks the most trafficked areas of the city. He tries to gently inform drivers of the rule they are breaking, jokingly pushing back on cars that stop too far into crosswalks at intersections, using bright yellow spray paint to highlight dangerous potholes and obstacles on sidewalks, and climbing over cars that have parked illegally in areas reserved for pedestrians. He tweets pictures of these infractions to city officials and reaches out to police in an effort to make the streets safer.
"The authorities don't give it attention because there's the drug war and unfortunately a lot of people are dying because of it," he says. "But a lot of people are also dying in the streets, and for reasons that can be easily resolved."
His conscientiousness appears to be catching on. When Fusion caught up with him in one of the busiest parts of the city during a recent afternoon rush hour, Peatónito happened to run into a group of students dressed as mimes and also directing traffic, working with the Mexican Institute of Youth on a goal that appears to have become widespread: teaching Chilangos how to keep from running each other over.