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A Bone Of Contention – OpEd


In my trips to Washington D.C. in the past, I have had the opportunity of driving in the city on roads such as Pennsylvania Avenue, Constitution and Independence avenues, and most of the streets between 1st and 25th Street. While some of the streets and avenues were slightly wider and are lined with trees around the various monuments and places of interest that dot the city, the road conditions and surfacing was no different from the rest of the metropolis thoroughfare.

Now fast-forward to my city of Jeddah. Keeping our pitiful road conditions in mind, I am amazed to notice one peculiar phenomenon here. It seems to me that whenever someone in the municipality gets promoted or appointed to a worthwhile post, not only his residence but the whole the neighborhood he lives in undergoes a sudden transformation.

A bustle of activity by a swarm of workers, all dressed in coveralls, swiftly materialize to remove trash, trim unkempt vegetation and haul the refuse off, all before the day is done. Within a few days, residents can expect to notice road-works teams busily digging and resurfacing the streets in the immediate neighborhood. While that is being done, new lampposts are being erected, and sidewalks repaired and spruced up. But such activities are unfortunately only confined to the near vicinity of our bigwig.

Herein lies my argument. Why are there no set standards that dictate that all city streets be maintained in similar fashion and kept well, and not just in neighborhoods that house some public officials? Seems to me we should borrow a page from the D.C. city officials.

And on the subject of our roads and streets, during a late night outing I ran into a speed bump. Better put, it met me head on with the force of a Panzer division of the Third Reich. It was unobtrusively waiting for any unsuspecting soul who just happened to be me. I was driving below the speed limit, and when I collided with it, I felt my body moving forward while my vehicle stayed behind. Underneath the vehicle, all sorts of groaning and creaking could be heard emanating. Certain parts were trying to recover, while others had simply given up and were busy redecorating the street surface below. Parts of the gray matter in my brain may have accompanied them.

After recovering from the impact of the collision and getting all the marbles in my woozy head back into their respectful places, I realized why I had failed to notice this impregnable barrier. There was a puddle of water from some broken line that had carefully disguised the approach to this barrier.

Looking around through somehow dazed and dopey eyes, I noticed a newly built house just ahead. And to top it off, there was another of these traps just beyond this house. Certainly, the owner had gone to great lengths to ensure that all traffic past his dwelling slowed down to a crawl. It had unquestionably succeeded with me.

But this was a public street, and it made me think for the next few days about such barriers or speed bumps or humps. Having dabbled years back in civil engineering, I began to marvel at the inconsistencies in the progress of that science when it came to application by whoever authorized and carried out such creations. There was no method, no theory, and no formula in these new wonders of road works. And what a contrast in styles!

They came in many shapes and sizes and new ones were sprouting around all parts of the city. Some were in the form of perfect half moons; others stretched for a meter or so. There were those that grated your teeth as you went over them, while still some others were placed so strategically that you hit the second barrier before you had a chance to clear the first one. And then there were some that were simply clumps of concrete and tar, contrived by an angry Third Country national who wanted to get back at all motorists for the injustices he may have suffered.

Few, if any, displayed any warning signs as you approached. That would just defeat the purpose. As for the legality of building such barriers, was it possible that any new homeowner or builder could just march down a street, choose his spot, and begin constructing a barrier in any form or shape he pleased? Buried deep within the archives of our municipal laws, are there provisions for such demonstrations of free form artistry?

That would be an issue for our vigilant municipality officials to consider. But would they notice and act upon such obvious offenses?

Tariq A. Al-Maeena

Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator and was educated at the University of Denver. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena

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