Thursday, April 15, 2010

Cultural Exploration 42: Traffic

The San Francisco Bay Area consistently ranks within the top 3 of areas with highest rates of traffic in America. And after growing up there, I moved to Los Angeles, which—along with Houston—also always ranks in the top 3. As far as traffic goes, I’ve seen my fair share, and one would think coming to a developing country for 2 years would provide a respite from all this gridlock. For the post part, that thinking is correct, but more and more, the streets of Apia have been seeing their own bottlenecks, hold-ups, and bumper-to-bumper jams.

Of course, most of this traffic is a result of development. Whether it is because of a simple growth in population or because of a street closure for a new sewer system, necessity breeds innovation and innovation breeds headache.

Given I live 60 metres from my job, I don’t face any real commute, and it’s rare I’m on the road during rush hour. The few times I’ve been stuck in traffic before work in the morning, it’s been bizarre how quickly the urgency and stress sets in. When my parents visited last May, they came out of baggage claim relatively late, and it was a mad dash to get back to my house before school started. With the traffic-induced aggravation, I may as well have been on the 10 freeway in West L.A.

Part of all this obstructive development has been the effort to widen the road. The same situation happened in my hometown during high school: in order to widen the road and expedite traffic, construction crews would have to block large sections of the road, and counter-intuitively slow traffic to a halt.

Traffic on weekends is bi-polar. Saturday morning between 6 and noon, downtown Apia is bumper to bumper just about everywhere. It’s a mad rush to get all of your shopping done before the shops close. But by 12:30 p.m., the streets are empty.

Another strange factor of Samoan traffic is the sizable amount of backed-up cars are taxis. Most families in Samoa don’t own a car, so traffic can be quite monochromatic with long lines of white taxis. This can’t be economical for taxi drivers since cabs here are not metered and fares are only calculated by distance. The driver has quite the disincentive to wait in traffic.

And yet they do. Long long lines of cars all over Apia as the city struggles to catch up with its own development.

That’s all the Cultural Exploration until we start again in July. Thanks to everyone who submitted ideas. I’ll work on those in the upcoming months.

I hope you’re well. I’m on Savai’i right now, and I forgot my camera’s USB connector. Pictures will be posted Sunday.

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