Eclectic commentary from a progressive voice in the reddest part of the red state

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Learn it and love it, not love it or leave it


Often in the bitterness of political debate, we expose our provincialism. Sometimes it comes in the form of: If you like the way things are in (fill in the blank), just move there. It’s the old “America, love it or leave it” routine.
George Santayana wrote in 1905, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” And perhaps we can add: Those who live with blinders on are also sure to repeat their and our mistakes or make new errors. And one of the best ways for Americans to remove those blinders is international travel. By experiencing what other countries do, we can learn that there are better ways to do things — if we’re open to them, of course.

I’ve alluded to this observation before, especially after a 2013 visit to England and Paris where I rode intercity and local public transit. While many of the Brits think their rail service could be vastly improved, compared to what’s happened in the United States, intercity rail travel is excellent. On the continent, France, Spain and Germany showcase high-speed rail. None of those countries have military budgets as large at the U.S. war machine. Changing our priorities will be a long time coming, but being aware of how we could be better should provide some motivation and national soul-searching.


Public transportation is but one example. Now that I’ve returned from a three-week visit to Ireland, I have more examples. Let’s continue the transportation
theme. The two instances I experience were pleasant, clean and inexpensive. And with a nice acknowledgment to protecting personal space, Dublin’s tram system has a nice touch for standees. It’s a simple design change in the pole folks hang on to on a
crowded train. As for the heavy rail intercity train, the ride from Malahide into Dublin was swift, pleasant and on time.

While Ireland lacks the robust intercity trains and light rail as England’s system, we found our experience driving enlightening — once we got used to it. I am not suggesting we change to right-hand drive in the U.S. But looking a traffic management could go a long way to improving our driving environment. Take the roundabouts, which Bostonians call rotaries and others call traffic circles. That’s a very civilized way to manage traffic flow and calm speeds — that is, slow things down.

At most roundabouts, the traffic flow takes care of itself with some simple rules and good signage. Those in the roundabout have priority and those waiting yield (“give way”) and then merge. The signage for which exit is places far enough before the circle to prepare the driver and the lanes for these moves are well-marked, as are the exits themselves. On some of the very heavily travelled and busy urban roads in particular, traffic signals supplement the roundabouts’ traffic control. I wonder how much money is saved by not having traffic signals and the related infrastructure at so many intersections. Or, how less expensive it would be to acquire less land for highways.

Think about how that might help us in Amarillo. Granted, not all of our street designs are amenable to this approach, but some could benefit. Georgia and 34th comes to mind; so does 34th and Soncy. There are others, of course and I’d be curious about what additional intersections others might suggest.

The compact nature of the island dictates smaller roads and, generally, the use of smaller and more economical vehicles. When we drove on “motorways,” the equivalent to our interstates, the speed pathto full licensure is more arduous, with an average initial pass rate for license tests of 53 percent. That leads to saferroads, at least in Dublin compared with other European Union capitals.
limits were in the 75 mph range. But most of the roads were two-lane, many narrow, winding and lacking a shoulder. Speeds limits were in the 30 to 60 range, depending on the road. The turns, oncoming traffic, especially the large buses and trucks, could make things scary. And the Irish are generally aggressive drivers, so tailgating, fast passes and other aggressions are common. But, here’s the thing: Irish drivers are skilled and well-trained. In fact, the

Here’s another touch, one that could prevent impatience and road rage: At one construction site, we found an automated traffic control system with a countdown clock. We encountered some windmill parts coming through on one of the smaller roads. Instead for the commercial wide load escorts, these
heavy haulers had police escorts. I suspect that keeps impatient drivers from pulling crazy stunts when they see the Garda.

These points aren’t about a full comparative or statistical analysis of driving in Ireland versus the U.S. This are practices that other countries have we should consider.

There’s more, and something that might resonate n the arid high plains. Most of the toilets in Ireland have dual mechanisms that permit low-flow flushing for the more liquid waste. For more robust needs, a more robust water flow is available. I don’t know if those types of toilets are mandated; some in public restrooms were simpler, leading me to believe it’s either a county-by-county regulation or a voluntary consciousness about saving water. And those public restrooms were mostly pristine, with charts to n the wall documenting the cleaning. I suspect that observation also reflects some regulation.

This past summer, when we visited the canyonlands of Utah and Arizona, National Park Service rangers presented programs on the stars and discussed the notion of preserving the night sky — reducing ambient light to make the sky more visible. One way to do so is to design street lamps and other urban lighting to be less intrusive using shielding and pointing down. Many of the cities and towns in Ireland have already done so. We experienced that in Athboy, County Meath, not far from Dublin. I noticed it, too, in Kinvara, County Galway, where we stayed in the village center.

The Irish are very community conscious and recognize that the staunch individualism characterized by the “American exceptionalism” doesn’t necessarily make their country a better place to live and raise families.

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