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Galilee Diary: Traffic Control

Galilee Diary: Traffic Control

When you build a new house, you shall make a railing around your roof, so that you do not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone should fall from it.
-Deuteronomy 22:8

Shorashim recently completed a major upgrade of the entrance to the moshav. The entrance road was widened and a proper curb and sidewalk added. A new space for recycling containers was paved, as well as clearly demarcated parking spaces, and center lines with reflectors. Most significantly, a whole series of speed bumps was created from the gate up into the new neighborhood. Several of these are particularly aggressive, and will soon be scarred by the many unsuspecting drivers who will hit them too fast and bottom out. The residents, of course, have already figured this out, and are careful to approach very slowly. Speed bumps are definitely annoying, and I assume not good for the car. On the other hand, they work. In Arab villages, where the Israeli police, for whatever reasons, don't enforce traffic laws, speed bumps are frequent and brutal; often, I suspect, they are the work of the local residents and not of the municipal authorities. There may be a good deal of reckless and underage driving in the villages, but not much speeding down residential streets. You can put up signs and conduct driver education and re-education classes, but it's passive-aggressive speed bumps that actually affect behavior in a culture in which no one wants to be a "friar" (goody-goody). There is a saying with origins in the army: "If force doesn't work - try more force."

Meanwhile, as speed bumps spread into the Jewish villages, another rapidly growing phenomenon on Israeli roads is the traffic circle. In the past few years these have multiplied everywhere, not just in towns and cities but on intercity highways. Just this week I noticed construction of still another traffic circle underway at a very busy intersection near Tivon, currently controlled by a traffic light. Interestingly, like speed bumps, these seem to be a form of involuntary enforcement: you can ignore (or not notice) a stop sign, yield sign, or red light, and speed through the intersection into a broadside collision. But you cannot speed through a traffic circle - you are forced by the geometry to slow down; and if you have a collision it will most likely be at an oblique angle and not broadside. Like speed bumps, traffic circles save us from our own absentmindedness or recklessness, whether we are paying attention or not. I imagine they also save fuel (no idling at red lights).

One could see these two techniques as an admission of our failure to convince people to do what is right and in their own self-interest - a sad commentary on our inability to live within a system of laws. Or one could simply see them as the equivalent of building a railing around the roof, to prevent us, despite all warnings and campaigns and signs, from getting too close to the edge and falling off. Which brings us to the question of responsibility. If I am responsible for the injury to someone who falls off my unfenced roof, then I guess Shorashim is responsible for the injury caused by a driver speeding on an un-speed-bumped road - and therefore, whatever I may feel about having rules and a system of educating for - and enforcing - compliance, the bottom line is that the community must do whatever it can to keep people from driving too fast, even if it means using "force." The issue is not moral philosophy, it is the lives of our children. These new obstacles on the uphill drive into Shorashim are irritating (especially if you have a manual transmission and have to downshift) and disempowering, but I am trying to learn to love them.

Originally published in Ten Minutes of Torah and Galilee Diary.

Published: 4/20/2011

Categories: Israel, Living in Israel
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