, Newburyport, MA

August 23, 2013

Round and round with the automobile

Bill Plante's North Shore
Newburyport Daily News

---- — I visited Moseley Woods a week back to take a river view of construction activity at the Whittier Bridge.

It was a fine walk along the tree paths, but a bit more of a challenge to old legs along the river route than I recalled, so I took care despite my familiarity with just about every nook and cranny despite a lifetime of visits. By its ending I gave way to a time warp.

My first visits had been walking with my mother and younger brother, Harley, way back to play on the swings when the only car I remember was a streetcar that passed us on its way to Amesbury.

This time I found nine cars full of children and adults.

I hadn’t given my visits much thought until I saw Bryan Eaton’s photograph of the roundabout at the intersections of Merrimac and Spofford streets, and Moseley Avenue in Tuesday’s Daily News.

Traffic is all but throttling us today. It’s impossible to track, but it’s more than 88 million car owners nationwide, and four of the cars are parked in front of my house.

I’m a bit ahead of reality but we are probably nearing the end of the automobile as we know it to be our a primary means of personal transportation.

Trying to deal with them locally is ever a headache for those chosen to manage the affairs of cities and towns from sea to shining sea and driving frustration is common.

There’s been some scoffing at Newburyport’s attempt to better the conditions at that intersection of three main streets and a park entrance.

My guess is it will help, but there’s bound to be trial and error. We don’t really know what unintended consequences are likely to be.

What we do know is there will be more use of that intersection, and especially so during summer months.

As for work on the Whittier Bridge, even without its building activities, the slightest of accidents on the existing bridge can back up traffic for miles.

Will the day come when we’ve given up on automobiles?

Maybe. Save this for your great-great-grandchildren.

The horse and buggy and streetcars didn’t disappear overnight.

They’re not even making automobiles the way they use to. No one could have imagined how few workers it takes to assemble them today.

As for ownership, getting from here to there as conveniently as possible in the least amount of time, and discomfort has brought us to where we are and it won’t stop here.

Highways and road beds require continuous up-keeping that drains resources. So does ownership of motor vehicles, but even those have comparatively short lives.

But being willing to lose our personal freedom to go from here to there and back again at the time and place of our choosing?

Ridiculous, so the beat goes on.

Automobiles are smaller. More and more of us are biking, especially in cities where parking is a continuing headache.

Commuting considerable distances on a daily basis is a costly drudge for millions. Disabling accidents and deaths are everyday occurrences.

We keep on adapting because there are no other short term choices.

That has made for the roundabout.

The hope is it will improve conditions. Could be. There’s a learning curve ahead because there always is.


Bill Plante is a Newbury resident.