Nadworny: Driving in circles

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(HOST) Despite all the advances in technology that Americans can claim, VPR commentator Rich Nadworny wonders what’s wrong with driving in circles once in a while.

(NADWORNY) This spring break I took my family to Washington D.C. What a great trip! We saw so much, and I can’t say who enjoyed it more, my kids or me. Walking through that great city and visiting those incredible, and free, museums was just inspiring.

At the Air and Space Museum, I couldn’t help but marvel at seeing the Wright Brothers’ original plane and the Spirit of St. Louis. Seeing all of those icons of my youth – the Gemini capsule, the X-15 rocket jet and the Apollo 11 capsule – caused me to well up in national pride. In the 20th century, America did some awesome things.

But the current recession has taken the edge off of American confidence. I mean, we messed things up pretty badly these past 10 years, and we’re all paying, or are going to pay, the price for it. Thomas Friedman’s book The World is Flat paints a challenging picture of our economic dominance in the upcoming decades. Richard Florida’s book The Creative Economy points out that the economic winners will be the ones who are most imaginative in creating new solutions, rather than straight and square thinkers.

When I see companies like Google leading everyone, or Apple creating the mind-boggling iPhone, or even the crazy founders of something like Twitter, I think that our future is going to be OK.

But then, just when I’m starting to feel optimistic again, I read about the brouhaha in Williston over a roundabout on Route 2. Apparently, some good solid Americans are up in arms because town planners want them to drive their cars in a circle.

It seems that the dissenters only want to drive their cars in straight lines, with brief interruptions for short, 90-degree turns. And they need help from stoplights on when to turn or go. Everyone understands stoplights: Red to stop, Green to go, and Yellow to slow down. Okay, I made that last part up, no one slows down at Yellow.

Personally, sitting in line at a stop light has got to rank down there right along with waiting at an airport. And 4-way stops aren’t much better. If you don’t believe me, try driving on Maple Street in Burlington at rush hour. It’s like playing Russian roulette with three other bullets, only the bullets are cars!

I lived in Europe for quite some time and with roundabouts, if you hit it right, you never had to stop. You might have to slow down some, but your car was always moving. I love roundabouts. With roundabouts you have to do three things: you have to pay attention, you have to be generous, and you have to be a little strategic.

But apparently that’s too much for some people in Williston. And that’s when I go back to Friedman and Florida, and I think:

How on earth are we ever going to compete with the masses of Chinese engineers and Indian engineers if we can’t even figure out how to drive our cars in a circle?

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