Wednesday, December 13, 2006


The Guardrail State

Cars live hard lives in New Jersey. Apparently, New Jersey residents get more than their fair share of auto break-ins and vandalism. The roads are badly potholed. The drivers' aggressiveness-to-skill ratio leads the nation. Not surprisingly, car insurance rates are breathtakingly high.

I try to distract myself with thoughts of history and the future. Perhaps New Jersey is a warning. An early sign of things to come when society lets population, suburban sprawl and cars run wild. The retrofitted society.

While their major highways are more or less modern, all of New Jersey's secondary roads are badly outdtated. The civil engineering behind them is undoubtedly of interest to historians, and it holds a sort of charm to would be time travelers like me who enjoy picturing Model T Fords tooling around on them. But the ancient, rusting guardrails, the paper-thin medians, and the "on-ramps" to the older secondary highways -- usually, nothing more than a cross street ending with a slight curve in the direction of traffic moving in excess of 50 mph -- seem designed to cause accidents. The roads are all too narrow, with no room to widen them.

You get the distinct impression of a place designed to be a crowded suburb during the first automobile boom in the 1920s. And you know what has happened to population since then.

They've been retrofitting ever since, with limited success. All around this particular part of northern New Jersey, they're painstakingly removing short road overpasses -- steel-and-concrete spans long enough to permit only one-lane each way to pass underneath -- and replacing them with longer 2-lane-each way spans.

My proposals for (1) the state symbol: a dented guardrail. (2) The state slogan: "widening the roads, one lane at a time."

Wonderful. Your travel blogging is sublime.
Where were you when NJ was looking for a slogan? That was a "Laugh out loud and make the kid late for school because I'm reading your blog" moment.
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