Saturday, August 23, 2008

Driving in America

We spent 2 weeks driving in Nevada and California. This time is sufficient to make a few brief observations.

First of all, how beautiful their roads are! How well maintained and wide they are. Even in a desert all roads were excellent (no unsealed roads except some riding fun tracks). Even in declining and poor areas (by the way, we did not see many of such areas) roads were so much better than in Lismore. We observed plenty of road work sites and saw various stages of road building. After seeing this I can say for sure that the Lismore council goes for cheap solutions (we observed road building around Modanville and saw how it was done) and the result is obvious. Bad Lismore roads are memorable to everyone who drove there once.
Americans take their roads very seriously and the result is marvellous. I know that Australian population of less than 20 million provides for building roads in the country of the size of the USA (where they have something like 300 million people) and Australia is a country with good roads in comparison with Russia, for example. However, I believe, if our councils stop looking for shortcuts in road building we will benefit much more and at the end it will cost less.
Shortly, I was impressed by the roads.

How many huge roads they have! A road can have 6-7-8 lines one way. It is impressive and depressing at the same time. All lines are full, all roads are full. I had an impression that there is no off-pick traffic on American highways. Every line is choko-block, even in a desert. Only twisted tourist drives have easier traffic conditions. Looking at the amount of cars I understand why this country bullies the whole world in order to get as much petrol as possible. This country will be in chaos if they cannot drive.

I am surprised with the amount of driving people should do to get somewhere. All cities we saw so far (Los Angeles, San-Francisco, Las Vegas and some smaller places along the Western Coast) are overstretched. Americans prefer to live in individual houses than in apartments. It is typical for Australia too, and our suburbs are endless, just like here, in America. However, our suburbs have shopping centres, which are quite compact and if you park a car somewhere close to the shopping centre, than you can do your shopping on foot quite comfortably. In America shopping centres are stretched so far, and distances between buildings are so unreasonably big that walking does not make sense. It is more sensible to drive from one part of the shopping centre to another. Everything is spacious here. On one hand it looks relaxing. On another hand – it is impractical, and costly. Countries with compact residential tendencies such as Russia or China have an advantage. Councils have an easier job to provide for the population, maintenance is chipper. Well, living cheaply is not on American agenda. They spend generously, and unnecessarily, on their cities.

By the way, Americans spend a lot on their cars (I don’t mean petrol). They buy big cars, which are costly, and eat a lot of petrol, which is also costly. And they have ugly cars! I mean really ugly: huge, square, disproportional. This type of cars is popular, which means there should be some good qualities in them, but why not to design them? Don’t hey care? We spotted many huge campo vans: I never saw anything like this. The sizes are monstrous, basically a size of a house, which illustrates another observation I made here: Americans love their comfort very much. They would love to leave house without leaving it. They take it with them, probably, quite literally. When I watched American movies about going on camping tour/fishing weekend (Honey, I shrank our kids and alike) it always seemed to be a comedy element. Now I start thinking that it is actually quite realistic.

They have different road rules. It is not surprising – every country has own ideas how to drive well, but what a foreign driver should do on the road? It could be a good idea to have leaflets with road rules info somewhere on the border, so tourists can learn a little. Some situations are confusing and in 2 weeks we have not resolved them. For example, on the crossroad no car has a priority; all 3 or 4 sides have a “full stop” line and sign. How do they know which one has to go first, if all drivers come to the intersection at the same time? I think our way is more safe and comprehensive…

On the other hand, Americans have very few speed cameras in comparison with Australia, but many more road policemen on duty. I found it is so much better and relaxing. Australian police leaves an impression of money making machine more than a traffic control aid. American police does what police suppose to do: controls traffic and secondly, gives tickets, probably. I was always a believer, that seen a policeman on the road is so much more effective than receiving a letter with a fine 2-3 weeks later.

To finalise my observations: everything is good on American roads and travelling can be quite pleasant, but I would not want to do it myself – too much stress in a busy traffic and too many stressed drivers, especially in the cities (just like everywhere else in the world, I guess).
In New York we will have a chance to learn about public transport system.

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