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September 18, 2007

Who has Better Traffic Jams: DC or Cairo?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Via Matt, we learn that Washington, DC is now apparently the third most-traffic-jam-prone metro area in America. I'm confused by this. As someone who is lucky/unlucky enough to have a car in our venerable capital, I can honestly say that I find DC driving to be rather manageable and not nearly as bad as everyone else seems to think. Yesterday, I drove down Mass ave. in the thick of rush hour and even that was relatively painless.

I don't think I've ever experienced a full-on paralyzing traffic jam in DC proper. Then again, I have one rule - and I make sure to follow it: never, ever, ever go on the Beltway, which is nothing less than an nightmarish black hole, from which there can be no escape. Two years ago, when I briefly lived in Silver Spring, I stumbled onto the beltway at 2 pm on a Friday afternoon. I was stuck for two hours. Unlike most traffic jams, this one didn't seem to be temporary. I escaped and had to put up with going through places like Rockville and God knows what else. I learned my lesson. Other people, of course, are not so fortunate.

With that said, it seems like we're all a bit spoiled. In America, you have to deal with traffic jams mostly during "rush hour" which, so we're led to believe, occurs between 7-9:30 and 4-6:30 pm. In a city like Cairo, you have to deal with traffic jams all the time. In fact, the phrase "rush hour" doesn't have any meaning in Arabic, because there isn't a rush hour. There are rush hours, and they come peppered throughout the day, including at 2 or 3 am in the morning. A 2 am traffic jam is a bizarre thing. There is an infamous bridge - actually it's more like an elevated road - that runs over Cairo. In the way that third-worlders have come to know and love, the bridge is named after some sort of important day - October 6th. So, yes, even Middle Eastern bridges are propaganda. The point is that sitta october bridge is permanently congested, except at like 4:30 am. And the problem is that once you get on October 6th, it's difficult to get off. For a good chunk of it, there aren't really any exits. So when you're stuck, you're stuck. Kind of sums up the Middle East.   


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My favorite place! As a current resident of Cairo, you are dead on...I was mystified to be stuck in traffic at 2 am the other day.

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