Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Transport: Relaxed Autos, but only Autos

KENNEWICK, WASHINGTON - Away from the largest urban areas, the western United States is dominated by the automobile. In most of the west, there is no alternative, no sidewalks, no bike lanes, certainly no public transit. The Tri-Cities are an exception of sorts in that Ben Franklin Transit is a reasonably usable system, with a balance of local and intercity routes with timed connections making it possible to make it from just about anywhere in Richland, Kennewick, or Pasco to anywhere else in an hour or less.

Yet, the traditional forms of "green" transporation are essentially unknown here. I have not seen a single bicyclist in four days here, even a recreational one. One would think that this would be the ideal season for bicycling in this climate, as the skies have been clear and the temperatures have not yet become oppressive; when I once lived here, I used a bicycle reasonably frequently.

Pedestrians don't seem to be allowed here. I only intend a small amount of irony in that statement. On at least four occasions, I have had an automobile completely ignore my presence in a sidewalk and just shoot through the interchange without even looking at me, sometimes even after the location where they would have hit me had I continued on my intended course. People obviously do not expect any pedestrians here, and feel they do not ever have the right-of-way.

Interactions between drivers, though, are actually more relaxed than I remember them here in the past. On multiple occasions, a car in front of me has failed to move for at least five seconds after receiving a green light. Nobody honked, nobody seemed to get upset, and eventually the driver would notice that they had a favorable signal and would move through the intersection.

This seems counter-intuitive, as the Tri-Cities have definitely grown since I lived here more than a decade ago, and one would expect that the mood would become more tense with more people. A possible theory is that part of the population growth has been amongst people from Mexico, and the laid-back nature of Mexico may be influencing driving habits here. Or, perhaps the roundabouts that have proliferated here on both city and state roads have forced people to figure out how to be polite to one another in vehicles.

In any event, some of that patience and politeness needs to be applied by drivers to people that do not happen to be in another vehicle.

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