Thursday, May 25, 2006

Sister-City in Danger of Becoming Yet Another Shrine to the Car Despite Objections of Residents

On the way to my aunt’s house in the Providencia area of Guadalajara, I grew worried. I forgot something I’d learned many times before: Never judge a city by the ride in from the airport. I feared the worst for the city where I spent the first two years of my life and enjoyed numerous visits thereafter. My childhood memory of Guadalajara was of a city lush with greenery and bursting with flowers. Now it looked like the city had changed its texture from verdant to dreary, and its color scheme from greens and vivid flower-hues to a monochromatic scale of grays.

My aunt tells me that despite the strenuous objections of the residents, builders and planners consistently manage to find ways around the regulations on conserving the green areas of the city and have decimated decades-old trees and shrubbery to make way for more pavement.

Good pavement can be a positive for cyclists, but cyclists are clearly not being factored into this picture. On the long ride home from the airport I didn’t see a single bicycle, which is a lucky thing because it would have been a scene of carnage indeed. Let me adopt my most diplomatic voice and say that the prevalent driving styles of this culture would preclude the designation of bike lanes on the same streets as cars. According to my cousins a bike lane was tried as an experiment some years ago, but public response was lukewarm. It seems there was a dearth of pioneers willing to pave the way with their squashed bodies while drivers grew accustomed to noticing bicycles sharing the road. The bike lane idea soon died out from lack of participation.

The pedestrian experience in Mexico does not entice one to place oneself in an even more vulnerable position in relation to the almighty car. If any rule of driving is apparent, it is that the car has the right-of-way and it is entirely up to the skill and agility of the walker to avoid car-to-human collision. Crossing a road on foot, one has the distinct feeling that the cars careening past are veering from their trajectory to create the closest possible brush with the pedestrian. One’s natural impulse is to run like a scared rabbit, but at the same time one would like to hold onto a shred of dignity.

“Don’t run,” my uncle is fond of saying. “It only makes it more sporting for them.”

Before I hurl us all into an abyss of depression, let me add that in the ensuing days of my visit I saw that it’s not all ruined – yet. Greens and a bright palette of flowers still adorn many parts of the city. And it’s not exclusively bad news for two-wheelers in our sister-city. I found a gem of hope, which I will elaborate on next time I post, which could happen as soon as tomorrow.


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