Home » Ike's answers, and some others, to transportation needs

Ike's answers, and some others, to transportation needs

This is the second of a two-part series on traffic and its consequences in the United States of America.

The original plans called for the interstate highways to go around metropolitan areas to make for really speedy transport from one place to another.

But the local chambers of commerce whined, whimpered and roared:  “No one will shop in our downtown stores anymore; they’ll rush right past.”

Ever drive to Boston from the Litchfield Hills? Sure you have, and what have you encountered when you reach Hartford? Gridlock until you eventually squeeze under the overpass and get in the right lane for Boston. So instead of getting off I-84 for lunch in Hartford, which was the original intent of this quagmire of road design, you continue on for 12 miles and pull into Reins Deli for a hot pastrami sandwich.

In America, of course, money has the last word. At least it did in the 1950s. So the interstates were bulldozed through the centers of America’s cities, ruining most of them, and it didn’t help downtown shopping centers one bit. Why? Because suburbs, easily accessible by limited access highways, made it possible for folks to leave the cities and move out into the country where they had to have cars to drive to the nearest stores. The malls came later.

A recent student visitor to Goshen from the Czech Republic couldn’t understand why there is no public transportation from Goshen to Litchfield to Hartford to New Haven, et al.

Thanks a lot, Ike?

So Ike, whose foresight wasn’t any better or worse than that of other folks at the time, saw how the Germans moved their military on the Autobahn in a country not nearly as large as ours. But he missed out on a traffic occasion that would have given him cause to rethink his use of superhighways as a potential weapon of war.

Nearly two decades ago I took an extensive tour of China. This was the old China, the China before glitzy high-rise glass skyscrapers. But more importantly, the China where the bicycle ruled the road.

Sitting in the middle of Peking, now Beijing, I marveled at how the widest roads were dense with men and women on bicycles, going to work, shopping, touring. They filled the roads from one side to another.

But they sped along fast enough for everyone to reach their destinations and do their business on time.

I had witnessed the same use of roads in Shanghai, four or six abreast, depending on the width of the passage ways.

What would happen, I conjured then, if all of these people bicycling to work got cars? It would be the worst gridlock in the history of transportation, I concluded.

And I was right, wasn’t I?

In the past couple of weeks, main roads in China have twice been backed up as much as 10 miles and it has taken hours for them to loosen up. Inasmuch as the Chinese have seen how their neighbors, the Japanese, have effectively moved their population by train — while exporting their cars to the United States — why have they allowed so many people to buy cars?

Is it that the Chinese ache to be as good as the West? Or that they believe cars are a symbol of progress? Not in my book. In America, however, we have a marriage with cars that no government can tear asunder.

But doesn’t the Chinese government still have the dictatorial power to restrict ownership and/or use of cars, even with capitalism now the rule of the day in that sprawling land? You’d think they might want to exercise some of that power. OK, so they are building an adjacent highway. But guess what? As soon as it is opened, it will be choked with cars — if the Chinese can buy cars with impunity.

Here in the good old USA, the New Jersey Turnpike was hailed as the answer to that region’s highway problems. It was going to accommodate traffic from New York for decades to come. Wrong, so wrong. Within one decade they started to add lanes, and still traffic tangles up there.

Ditto Connecticut. And how many times has Massachusetts ripped down its overpasses in order to widen Route 128, which circles the city of Boston? Naysayers said that was a boondoggle that wouldn’t attract many cars because it was so far away from midtown. Didn’t really work out that way, did it?

Cars are a curse. But instead of Ike, maybe I should blame Henry Ford. ’Nuff said.  


Freelance writer Barnett Laschever of Goshen sobs when he has to drive around Boston.

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