Published: Sunday, October 17, 2004


DAVE BARRY, Herald Columnist

Our traffic problems are getting worse, according to a recent study by the Institute of Discovering Things That Make You Go "Duh."

How bad is our traffic mess? Consider these alarming facts:

FACT: Commuting by automobile now takes so long that many workers have no time to do any actual work. When they reach their place of employment, they grab a cup of coffee, spend a few minutes discussing the previous night's episode of The Apprentice with their co-workers, and immediately start the long commute home, unaware that their jobs were outsourced to Asia months ago.

FACT: In the past year alone, commuters whose car radios were tuned to "classic rock" spent an average of 347 hours - more than two weeks - just listening to the song Takin' Care of Business, by Bachman Turner Overdrive. The statistics are even more chilling for Black Magic Woman.

FACT: Gridlock is so bad that as many as 15 percent of women drivers now pass the time by picking their noses. (The figure for men remains steady at 100 percent.)

FACT: In greater Los Angeles, the only documented instance in the past two decades of anybody actually getting anywhere by car is O.J. Simpson.

FACT: Traffic is now a problem even in rural areas such as North Dakota, where this year, for what is believed to be the first time in the state's history, two motorists arrived simultaneously at the same intersection (North Dakota has six). They were stuck there for several days, each motorist gesturing, in friendly Heartland fashion, for the other to go first. Ultimately they both had to walk home.

FACT: Bachman Turner Overdrive was originally named "Brave Belt."

Clearly, we have a serious traffic problem. The question is, what can we do, as a nation, to get motorists off the roads?

One obvious answer is to allow them to drive on the sidewalks. This is the system used in Greece, where the entire motor vehicle code consists of a single law: No stopping. This law requires Greek motorists to use a loose interpretation of the term "legal right of way, " which in Greece is basically defined as "Greece." I learned this while I was in Athens for the Olympics, and on two occasions a moving taxi made direct physical contact with me while I was sitting at a cafe table. The second time the contact was pretty firm, so I gestured at the taxi driver to indicate "Excuse me, sir, but your taxi has struck me, " and the driver shouted something that I assume was Greek for, "What do you expect?! You're SITTING AT A CAFE TABLE!!"

But the point is that, without a bunch of "red tape" laws requiring motorists to stop or yield or avoid humans, traffic in Greece moves quite freely everywhere, including inside the Parthenon. If we adopted such a system here, we could speed up our traffic flow, and as a side health benefit really perk up the average pedestrian pulse rate.

Another possible solution to our traffic problems is "car pooling, " which is when a group of people ride together in one car, saving gasoline, inhaling each other's bodily emissions and arguing over which radio station to listen to ("Hey leave it! I LIKE Black Magic Woman!") So we can rule this solution out.

A far better solution is mass transit, which has been proven to be effective in Boston, Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C., all of which have excellent mass transit. (They also all have really horrible traffic, but I am asking the jury to disregard this.)

The problem is that mass transit is very expensive. Washington, for example, would never have been able to build its superb subway system without billions of dollars generously provided by federal taxpayers like you. Most cities - probably including yours - don't have that option. So what can you do? The answer is surprisingly simple and affordable: You can steal Washington's subway!

I don't mean the whole thing, of course: That would be illegal. But if everybody in your city were to visit Washington as a tourist, and each of you just happened to take a Phillips screwdriver, and you each took just a few minutes, between visiting monuments, to unscrew a small piece of the subway and bring it home, before you know it, guess what? That's right: A large sector of your city's population would be in prison. This would ease highway overcrowding.

Whatever traffic solution we decide on, we need to do it soon, because as a nation, we need to get out of gridlock and start takin' care of business, every day! Takin' care of business, every way!

Please shoot me.

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