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When It Comes to Auto Supremacy, No Island Is an Island

2:15 PM EST on January 7, 2008

Through circumstances too convoluted to go into here, I found myself on a huge cruise ship over the holiday break, bound for the Eastern Caribbean. Our first port of call was San Juan, Puerto Rico, which is much the same as Aaron Naparstek left it two years ago:

[Old San Juan's] biggest assets are thesecharming old, winding streets and all of these incredible oldbuildings. The streets are absolutely perfect for strolling andshopping and sitting at cafe tables. And they are almost totallyuseless for motor vehicles. And, yet, there is no strolling, shopping,or sitting at cafe tables on the streets of Old San Juan. Rather, thepublic space between these beautiful old buildings is almost entirelydedicated to traffic and parking.

In fact, though I had not seen Aaron's account of his trip until today, we both took photos of the same gridlock-choked street, as seen above.

In this shot, fellow cruisers weave awkwardly through traffic on a Segway
tour of Old San Juan. Out of frame is their guide, who led them on
foot. Swear.

IMGP1081.JPG

Here, the wide, inviting sidewalk leading to a gorgeous municipal building is used for personal parking.

IMGP1164.JPG

Puerto Rico wasn't the only island I visited that has been turned over to the auto. In St. Thomas, pedestrians are crowded onto sidewalks that are no more than three to four feet wide in some spots, while cars are given parking and at least one travel lane.

And on beautiful St. Kitts, which I was fortunate enough to see by rail, much of the countryside has been turned into a junkyard.

The eco-evils of cruise ships aside, I'm not sure how much the presence of relatively affluent vacationers helps or hurts these poverty-stricken destinations. But from what I saw the auto-related blight and hazardous pedestrian conditions aren't hampering the tourist trade. Could be that many of those who visit just don't notice. Or maybe it's the weather, or, as Aaron noted, the unlimited food and $8.50 tropical drinks to be had back on the boat.

Photos: Brad Aaron

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