Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Driving You Crazy

Well Company, as it turns out it is getting a lot more difficult, dangerous and confusing to drive your car around in this world, mostly due to new and not always innovative or safe changes in the way we go about cruising our streets. First, I get an informational pamphlet about "roundabouts" or traffic circles as we have been calling them for years and how to drive through them. Apparently they are starting to pop up en masse all across America because they are safer, which might be true in the long run but while we are getting used to dealing with them instead of heavily signalized intersections we are going to be crashing the hell out of our vehicles on an almost daily basis. And I bet we take out a few pedestrians and bicyclists in the process, which is bad but not so bad because you get 50 points for a pedestrian and 100 for a bicyclist because they can move much faster.
All that business, however, pales in comparison to the traffic-related tomfoolery that is occurring in France and in Samoa. I know, I know, those two places are far apart, and aside from beautiful beaches and parliamentary democracy there isn't a whole lot that the two nations have in common. But they are both dealing with heady traffic issues that are taking quite a toll on their motorists.
First to France, Paris in particular, where two mayors have caused a traffic mess for the ages. See, Paris is a big city, and the individual districts have their own mayors, who apparently wield an obscene amount of power. I say this because in the Levallois-Perret districe, conservative mayor Patrick Balkany recently made a decision that he felt was in the best interest of his area. He took the D909, which apparently a lot of commuters use both into and out of Paris, and declared it a one-way road to keep just those very same commuters away. Good, great, fantastic. Sounds like a plan. Unfortunately that plan did not go over so well with the socialist mayor of neighboring Clichy-la-Garenne. He claimed that this new traffic arrangement led to increased commuter traffic in his district, so he promptly took the D909 and made it a one-way street IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION.
Now, I know you are not stupid, Company. I know that by now you have figured out that there are really only two ways that this could end. First is that the two one-way streets pointed away from the same point, outward, away from one another if you will. That would result in there being no cars on the D909 because all the traffic would be funnelling away from the road. But no, it went the other way. The more exciting, dangerous, Benny Hill kind of way. That's right, the one-way section of the D909 in Levallois pointed towards Clichy, and the one-way section of the D909 in Clichy pointed towards Levallois.
As one would expect the results were not good. Not at all. No one was injured or killed as far as we know but as would be expected there was massive gridlock on a scale that would make Los Angeles jealous. Imagine that you are tooling down the D909 in your Citroën or Opel and all the sudden you see a "One Way" sign and another Opel or Citroën coming towards you. That would make me stand on my brakes regardless of how many mopeds were coming along behind me. The situation is so bad at the moment that they are actually calling in extra municipal and national police to handle the trouble. Now that's a traffic jam if you ask me.
They haven't had any traffic jams yet in Samoa, but I assure you that they will. The traffic problems now haven't begun but the mass protests in response to an upcoming change in traffic law are in full swing. In the very early hours on September 7, 2009, Samoa will become one of only a handful of nations to switch the side on which they drive, and it will be the only one since 1900 to make the switch from driving on the right to driving on the left.
The reasons for the switch make sense to me sort of. They government in Samoa has decided that the roughly 18,000 cars that they have there are not enough and they want to bolster numbers. Since the two largest and closest Samoan neighbors are Australia and New Zealand, both of which drive on the left side, the government thought it would be easier for the average Samoan, who makes about $2800 per year, to get a hold of cheaper used cars. Apparently the cars set up for driving on the right, which most of the world does, are a little harder to come by in Samoa.
As would be expected, this is not going over well with the locals. First of all, they seem to all be just fine with driving right-hand-drive cars on the right side of the road; they apparently all have some sort of lifelong desire to pretend they are mailmen or something. Second of all, the switch will cost this nation that is heavily reliant on foreign aid a ton of money, because buses have to have their doors switched, etc. Third, critics of the switch say that the treacherous mountain roads in this tiny island nation are already dangerous enough without people having to be confused about which side of the road to be on, so they have started a group called PASS which cleverly stands for People Against Switching Sides and is unsurprisingly against the upcoming switch.
While they have been lobbying the national government and voicing their opinion against the change, the local village council in Salelologa on the island of Savaii has pledged to oppose the switch by blocking all sections of road in the village and the surrounding township. How fantastic of an idea is that? "Well if we can't drive on the right then nobody is going to drive anywhere at all." We will see how well that works the first day the mayor doesn't feel like walking in to the office. This is such a hot-button issue in Samoa that the leader of PASS has actually started his own political party which will run for office in 2011, by which time everyone will be used to driving on the left side. But I bet in their uproar they haven't thought of that yet, now have they?
So that's the story. Big changes in Paris for all you commuters out there who are not taking The Metro. And for everyone in Samoa: motorists, pedestrians, stray dogs, traffic cops. In the end all these issues will shake themselves out somehow I am sure. But for now I am sure that if you are stuck in one of the many traffic jams they are causing it is driving you crazy.

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