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US infrastructure appears 3rd world compared to elsewhere

Original post made by World Traveler, Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on May 14, 2008

Having recently traveled to 3 major cities in Europe, I am struck by how outdated daily life appears here in what should be the most technologically advanced area of the country if not the world.

From badly designed public transport, to poor signs, and poor roads, the US looks much more like an urban poor city rather than one of the so called richest in the world.

We have no overall transit authority in the Bay Area, we cannot get off one train, onto one bus and then another on one ticket, and no one place to get information how to even use them for one journey. We have to wait at bus stops with no idea of how long it will be before the next bus arrives or even which bus will come or where it will take us. We have no way of knowing if the bus is late or if it arrived early and we missed it. We have no idea when a bus comes where it is going (unless we happen to know that its destination is our destination) and if we get off, where we should go to find the bus for our return journey.

We have buttons to stop the traffic for pedestrians, but we still have to watch for cars turning right on green even when the pedestrians have the crossing signal. Traffic lights for pedestrians should stop all traffic in all directions. Bike lanes are intermittent and usually fade out at intersections and often disappear altogether without any warning.

Our roads are in poor repair and signs to anywhere other than hospitals or freeways are almost non-existent. Traffic delays ahead are never warned in advance and as for finding a spot in a crowded parking lot, you might as well be looking for a needle in a haystack as there are no methods of knowing where the empty bays are situated and even less help to find your car when you have finished apart from the remote on your own car and key fob.

Other major cities do seem so much more advanced and it is only by seeing innovations abroad that we can actually see how far behind we are.

Here we constantly hear the argument of how expensive some of these things are, but if that is the case how come so many other countries with smaller populations are able to do so much better. One can argue that their taxes are higher, but really I think it is much more than that. They are prepared to use the money that they do have to make the lives of their own citizens better rather than wasting the money on bureaucracy and image making. I believe our own mayor has just come back from a fact finding tour in China, but surely the money that cost would have been much better spent on improving Palo Alto for its residents by improving the library or putting safety crossing lights outside our schools.

Public office is just that, serving the public, not serving one's own political career or justifying a busman's holiday of sorts on international travel. Here in Palo Alto we should really watch how the money our City gleans is spent. And, whether we need to tighten the purse strings on the Children's Theatre, the Mayor's travel abroad, or the naming of a plaza to honor someone who has nothing to do with Palo Alto and putting a plaque to prove it, we should demand better infrastructure as a top priority.

Comments (25)

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Posted by Jake
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 14, 2008 at 7:27 pm

World Traveler,

I have traveled quite bit in Europe. The city streets are so dangerous that parents keep their kids on a short leash. Why should one worry or complain about right turn on red/green, when many Europens don't bother stopping for any color light, at any time?

The trains and buses in Europe are always at the mercy of the latest union strike. I remember sitting for 28 hours in a bus, and nearby, waiting for the government to give in to their terrorism.

The signs in this country, at least in Calfornia, are very informative. You've got be joking!

You seem to have some kind of agenda.


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Posted by Quality not Quantity
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 14, 2008 at 7:37 pm

World Traveler,

Your take is right on the mark.

Before LBJ's "great society" we were the pentacle of scientific and economic progress. Our wealth and life style were the envy of the world.

Starting with the "great society" and going forward, liberals intentionally created a dependent class to insure their control on political power, while slowly bankrupting the country to maintain it.

Your observations are just one result of this intentional social manipulation for political power. $4/gallon gas, failing schools, Illegal alien Mexican drug gangs, unwed mothers, etc, etc, etc..... These are the "fruits" of what LBJ started with "The Great Society".

When "Voters" are purposely created, or imported, to be on the Government dole, this slow spiral to the 3rd world will continue.

When voting rights are removed from Government wards it will end.

Those who don't pay should have no say.





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Posted by Agree....
a resident of Midtown
on May 14, 2008 at 8:21 pm

Amazing isn't it? The delineation is clear. The Europeans have been around longer and have learned from their mistakes. Pretty easy to travel around there as a visitor. Difficult here.


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Posted by a
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 14, 2008 at 8:40 pm

Asia also is doing pretty well - Japan's bullet train was real nice a clean the last time I was there. The subways in South Korea were much better than New York's. From what I read, Singapore also has children's play pens in the airports.

It's sad that we spend so much on the war to destabilize the Middle East to protect Israel, but we cut back on education, our roads, our bridges, our doctoral grants, our research, and our freeways. I think it's a shame.


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Posted by a
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 14, 2008 at 8:40 pm

Asia also is doing pretty well - Japan's bullet train was real nice a clean the last time I was there. The subways in South Korea were much better than New York's. From what I read, Singapore also has children's play pens in the airports.

It's sad that we spend so much on the war to destabilize the Middle East to protect Israel, but we cut back on education, our roads, our bridges, our doctoral grants, our research, and our freeways. I think it's a shame.


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Posted by Good laugh
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 14, 2008 at 9:01 pm

Quality not Quantity:

You gave me a good laugh. Those European countries with better infrastructure and public transportation are also countries with national health care systems and many more social services than we've ever had in this country. So, our "great society" can't possibly be what sank our infrastructure here!

Jake: not stopping at red lights is something that is more and more prevalent in Palo Alto as well... However you are right on with the issue of strikes. I've had countless trips turn into nightmares in Europe due to strikes.


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Posted by a
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 14, 2008 at 9:22 pm

France's bullet train was really nice and clean too. It's true, I think the French have it good. Everyone is required to take at least on month vacation every year. Free, high quality health care is available.

When I was in France I had a marvelous time.


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Posted by Quality not Quantity
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 14, 2008 at 9:27 pm

Good Laugh,

Until very recently, those European countries with better infrastructure/health care/ social services are also countries where the recipients of those services are the ones who pay for them through their taxes.

But that's changing too. Look at the Islam riots in France.

Intentionally creating an underclass is a big, big mistake.


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Posted by Joan
a resident of Greater Miranda
on May 14, 2008 at 9:44 pm

Ah, Quality not Quantity, your satirical comments provide a welcome laugh at the end of this sweltering day. What a card!

Of course, the realists among us, who have none of Quality not Quantity's talent for satire, would have instead soberly written about how, before the Bush/Cheney warmongering years of disgrace and decline, this country represented the pinnacle of scientific and economic progress, and our wealth and lifestyles were the envy of the world. That, starting with the shoring up of corporate power and control that intensified during the Reagan era and spiraled out of control since then, our democracy has essentially been replaced by a corporate oligarchy. That, starting with the deliberate dismantling of the New Deal that began in the Reagan era and has continued since -- notched up with a religious fervor during the Bush/Cheney era -- a new, dependent class of corporate parasites has been created and policies set in place to ensure its control on political power while slowly bankrupting the country to maintain it (Hello, Bear Stearns! Heck of a job in Iraq, Halliburton!).

Thank you, Quality not Quantity, for introducing some satirical humor to this bleak situation with your assessment of what happens to a country and society when the our government places the interests of corporations ahead of the interests of the people.


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Posted by Walter E. Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on May 15, 2008 at 7:51 am

DON'T LET THE DOORKNOB HIT YA WHERE THE lORD SPLIT YA!


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Posted by World Traveler
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2008 at 8:07 am

It seems that many of you have not got lost in unfamiliar Sunnyvale, or Fremont. Someone stopped me at a red light recently while I was driving southbound on Middlefield. They were looking for Redwood City and had no idea that they were driving in the wrong direction and about to enter Mountain View instead of Menlo Park. Signs on Middlefield are just non-existent.

While walking, I have had people waiting at bus stops ask me if this was the right bus for xxx and what time the next bus would come. Pedestrians walk out on cross now (white men and countdowns), but nearly get hit by cars turning.

If you have not experienced traveling abroad, you will not realise how abysmal this all is. I am not talking tourist spots, or run down areas, but pleasant suburbs where people like us live and get so much more from their City infrastructure.


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Posted by Jane
a resident of Professorville
on May 15, 2008 at 9:59 am



Europe is demographically doomed,

China-- give me a break, the earthquake is just another example of their lousy infrastructure, non of the schools or other building were built up to code in the most predictable earthquake area.

The subways bridges and tunnels all over China are all undercode, the building boom has created thousands of skyscrapers that would never be approved here-- they will come crashing down in natural disasters

The China public health system is a vector for deadly diseases that will spread to here


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Posted by Sarah
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 15, 2008 at 10:29 am

World Traveler, I haven't traveled as much as you seem to have, but my experiences in three European countries support what you have observed. The infrastructure for getting around in this country, at least in this area, almost discourages people from taking public transit and/or walking. We can do better if we wanted to -- and I wish we would consider it a priority.

I appreciate the fact that you're sticking with the issue you first put forth here and are ignoring the silly non-sequitur comments that always seem to plague this forum. I'm sick to death of stupidity.


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Posted by SUMD
a resident of Stanford
on May 15, 2008 at 10:35 am


Jane- you are correct about China

Things are really bad and getting worse when the dams collapse


"The possibility of far worse damage from Monday's earthquake loomed Wednesday after a Chinese government report said that nearly 400 dams suffered damage. State media reported that 2,000 soldiers were sent to try to plug "very dangerous" cracks in one, upriver from the hard-hit Sichuan city of Dujiangyan, official media said.

A school collapse in a southern suburb killed hundreds of children, perhaps as many as 900. Parents have begun setting up memorials and bodies are still being pulled from the rubble.

Another government report said that, further east, nearer the vast Three Gorges Dam, reservoirs had been damaged." Web Link


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Posted by World Traveler
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2008 at 10:45 am

How about starting another thread about China, its infrastructure and its earthquake. This one is about infrastructure here and I appreciate the fact that others like me are willing to discuss the problems here.


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Posted by Peter S
a resident of College Terrace
on May 15, 2008 at 11:26 am



We the Brits, Russians and Germans did the favor of destroying most of Europes infrastructure during WW2

We were alone in providing that service for Japan

So they all built it up from scratch.

The demographic time bomb in Europe will mean a tiny tax base,many old sick natives and hoards of homicidal jihadists very soon, not a pretty sight.
They are re arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, and the smart natives will continue leaving like rats from a sinking ship.

We should welcome those with marketable skill as immigrants .


We are in good shape demographically and as long as we stick with E Pluribus Unum we will not have civic wars.

Meanwhile Chinas public health practices and gross pollution are a real threat to our lives, particularly in the Bay Area


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Posted by America Love It Or Leave It
a resident of Meadow Park
on May 15, 2008 at 4:33 pm


i find the stuff about China very relevant,

If you do not like America go and live there instead , if they will have you you may be too old


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Posted by a
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 15, 2008 at 4:45 pm



"i find the stuff about China very relevant,




If you do not like America go and live there instead , if they will have you you may be too old"


America Love It Or Leave It,
And how much of your stuff that you consciously bought was made in China??? Ha, ha.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 17, 2008 at 9:35 am

There are good points and bad points about living anywhere. It makes sense to try and improve the bad points so that we can still enjoy the good points.

I have lived here for about 18 years and when I go back to my home country (won't say where because someone will start knocking it), I am amazed at how much more advanced they are there. Their cell phone system, their public transport, their roadway system, have all spiraled ahead and when I return here I get the feeling I am in a quaint olde worlde type of place.


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Posted by you are here because...??
a resident of Midtown
on May 17, 2008 at 11:09 am

And you are here because your own country is so much better for you? Or you are here because there is work for you here, and not at home? Or because you can keep more of what you earn here, whereas back home you would pay twice the taxes you pay here in order to pay for that much better infrastructure?


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Posted by perspective
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 17, 2008 at 11:12 am

Again, we have much fewer people per square mile..much fewer people who would give up their cars and use public transport..and therefore a much higher "per tax paying adult" burden for roads and public transport.

This is relative to most other countries in the western world, most of whom have the population of California or maybe 2 of our states, and less land.

In other words, fewer users per mile, more miles to cover...much higher cost.


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Posted by World Traveler
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 17, 2008 at 11:23 am

Interesting comment, perspective.

My thoughts are not on how high the taxes are, or the number of people. Much rather the facts that people here seem to be satisfied with so little improvements when they really do not seem to appreciate how better things could get and also, that money spent on senseless expenses, such as the plaque and renaming of City Hall Plaza and the jet setting antics of our mayors, would be much better spent on infrastructure.

This is not just a condemnation of Palo Alto, but it seems to be everywhere in the US. The New York Mayor has just been in Ireland and England (no idea at whose expense) for no real reasons and our own mayors are always going walkabout to foreign climes. I would much rather see the money spent on this on our own city upgrades rather than their perks.


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Posted by Jesse
a resident of Ventura
on May 19, 2008 at 5:25 pm

Maybe our rails and roads ain't so good, but our F-22's will beat anything they got anyday.


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Posted by Car
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 19, 2008 at 7:28 pm

Rebuilding our infrastructure was Eisenhower's program. He sold it as "national security" but it created good jobs, and helped industries grow.

I don't know where we will get the money. China is investing heavily in Venezuela, buying American assets, but now with the horrifying earthquake in Sichuan, they are going to need to turn more money to their program for rebuilding the interior of the country. (The coast is doing very well.)

We've paid a huge tax for the Iraq War, but it's been hidden. Our currency depreciation is a wealth tax. We are still a rich country, but if our creditors really need to move their money, we have no plan to cope.


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Posted by Carol Mullen
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 19, 2008 at 7:33 pm

I meant to sign my own name.

And I have been moving our own funds into sounder currencies, so I could hardly blame any one else. Why buy a depreciating asset if you see no plans for the debtor running that asset to turn things around?


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