Saturday, July 13, 2013

Commuting in Los Angeles vs. Commuting in San Juan

LA is a driving city. It's huge, it's got lots of cars massive avenues and many places aren't even reachable via the metro at all. Cities within cities like Beverly Hills strictly opposed the metro from going through it and the design of the metro doesn't make it any faster than driving. So many times when you're going too far for a bike driving is the only option. I spent a lot of time in the car in LA. A LOT. But it is completely different from Puerto Rico. In both places I like to minimize commuting but in LA it was for a completely different reason.

The prime disadvantage of commuting in LA is time. It takes a lot of time to commute because you have to cover great distances. I became an NPR nut in LA, driving and listening to the radio, or putting in a book on CD from the library was also cool. But in Puerto Rico this options aren't really viable.

The prime disadvantage of commuting in PR is you are risking your life and your car every-time you commute. A ridiculously coordinate schedule has most of the people on the city starting work at the same time, combined with a school schedule where pretty much everybody that can afford to has their kids sometimes in widely far-away schools, and an aggressive take-no-prisoners driving style and you seriously can't pay attention to news, radio, book on tape or anything without putting your life at further risk.

The first few days I drove here, I ended up with chest pains, probably from gripping the steering wheel so tensely my chest muscles went into overdrive. You see the roads here are quite frequently riddled with potholes that challenge your driving if you were completely alone in the road, let alone, with everybody else.

I actually take a longer route to work simple because it has less holes. It's just worth it to me. The completely strange thing is that unlike LA, traffic here can be moving slower than you could walk there. Intersections can get log-jammed in such a way that if you could park you'd make it there quicker. I've gone from a good Highway speed of 55mph in LA to a wonderful one of 45 here. I mean 45mph is fast! Still you have to avoid all the slow pokes going 30mph in the fast lane...

The only reason PR doesn't have the volume of accidents I saw in Florida, which astounds me every time (I saw an accident there every week on average, even when visiting) is that in PR you have to been paying sooo much attention to the road you forget there are rules and you just develop a sixth sense of what you can or can't do. Go on green? Are you kidding? You make sure that the guy running the red light passes first.

Quite possibly the thing I failed to understand was why there was so much traffic. Now I know. Around 80% of the employees at my work hail from outside the metro area. Why? Turns out there is a law that all government offices have to be in San Juan and the government being the largest employer in the island, guess what?

With all that daily influx of cars into the metro area, all moving lock-step at the same government schedule... no wonder commuting is not about distance, it's about congestion. And no wonder the urban train that covers the metro area has only a small impact on the traffic.

That is how an island that fits over five times inside LA has much worse traffic than anything I ever saw in LA, except Thanksgiving traffic, that one time. That was just incredible.

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