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18 Jan, Tuesday
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The driving lunatics of Texas

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

I’ve only been living in Texas for around three months now. Specifically, Houston. If you know this fourth largest city in the United States, you will surely know that the car reigns supreme here. The city is a web of six-lane interstates that form several rectangular loops around the metro area. This leads inevitably to questions such as “do you live in or outside of the Loop?”

As a major trucking hub because of the port of Houston, and a little further afield of Galveston port, means that the drivers of mere sedans and SUVs, must compete with all-fashion of enormous 18-wheeler trucks, that often speed along at the same pace as cars or even faster.

Accustomed to the tranquil maximum driving speeds of 60-kilometers per hour in my old Brasilia neighborhood of Lago Sul, I find the constant high-speeds of 112-kilometers per hour that are standard on the highways here, both frightening, dangerous and stressful. When I drive I many times like to daydream a little, finding it a way to relax and to zone out while driving on highways that do not have the constant stopping and starting that one encounters on non-highways with their narrower lanes and traffic lights. But I have found one benefit: I can drive the 42-kilometers to my cousins’ house in Cypress in only 30 minutes. 

Houston does have a public transportation system, consisting mostly of buses, and a smaller electric light rail network. And like any society that values private transportation over public transport (here’s looking at you Saudi Arabia), it is mainly those who cannot afford to buy a car who use the buses here.

Which brings to mind Singapore, where because of its geographical smallness, cars are taxed highly by the government to discourage the use of these vehicles. Houston would highly benefit from this too, judging from the epic traffic jams that take place here on a daily basis. According to the Texas Department of Transport there were 3.26 million vehicles registered in Harris County in 2020. Yet any effort to shrink the number of cars on the roads here would meet stiff opposition from locals steeped in the belief that every American should have the right to own several vehicles and “screw public transport!”

The 22.7-mile MetroRail system runs close to my house, and looking at its coverage map I see that I could ride it all the way downtown and onto the museum area. When my suburban, and car-loving, relatives visited me for the first time, they exclaimed when we saw the train roll past our car.

As is well-known, the US car industry (hat tip Henry Ford and General Motors) successfully lobbied the federal and local governments in the 20th century against public transport systems and trains in general. Free market radicals like to rail against public anything as a leftist conspiracy to take away the freedoms of individual Americans. And the terrible results can be seen in cities such as Houston, where too many cars snarl up our roads every day, and drivers shoot other drivers in rage road incidents.

And let’s talk about allowing 16-year-olds to drive here on learner permits. Who thought it was a good idea to let testosterone-mad teenage boys behind the wheel of 2,000-pound cars? I know that teenage boys in the American frontier had to help their families by riding horses or leading the family’s carriage on their westward march to “discover” and conquer the American West. But there is a huge difference between the dirt paths of the Prairies and the asphalt jungles of big cities. And I must say that Dodge Chargers should be banned in Houston as they seem to be the favorite car of young men, too eager to put their foot to the metal and take their cars out on 200-a-mile per hour spins.