Imagine your city without working traffic lights—for seven friggin’ months. how would you react gasbuddy va

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Imagine your city or town without traffic lights. Imagine walking or driving at night without street or roadway lights. Then think about what you would do and how you would feel if this wasn’t just a temporary outage and it went on for months, and months and months.

Those of us on the U.S. mainland have allowed seven months to pass by while our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico have gone without full power since September of 2017. I often wonder… what would each of us do if faced with the same situation?

Since last September, I have attempted to familiarize readers with Puerto Rican history, culture and politics, to forge a connection and enhance both understanding, empathy and hopefully prod people to take action. Since Maria I’ve written about health and environmental issues, suicide rates, housing, food, potable water, school closings, U.S. government disaster response failures—the gamut of obstacles that are part of everyday life on the island, while not ignoring the incredible resilience of the Puerto Rican people, who are attempting to cope one day at a time.

We live in a car driven world. Those of us who don’t own a car, or drive a car are often passengers in cabs, and on buses. Getting from point A to point B in a city or town requires streets and roadways and they have traffic lights. Even when you don’t have a car or aren’t in one, traffic lights help you do something very simple—crossing the street. So pedestrians are part of this picture too.

Imagine, just imagine living in the chaos of non-working stop lights. Not just a “temporary” outage where the damn light is blinking or not working at all and causes temporary traffic snarls until fixed in a day or two. We have all experienced traffic jams, we know the environmental impact, and we have the term “ road rage” in our lexicon.

Though there are no stoplights on the freeways, at the end of each exit ramp there is one, and they are not working, causing backups so bad that many Puerto Ricans who commute to work now leave their homes three hours early in hopes to avoid tapónes. Those caught in the snarls sit, honk their horns, and fume as a shimmering haze of exhaust fumes glitters in the air. Rage ensues, and tempers fray in a populace already overwhelmed by all the other ills that beset an island essentially abandoned by the Republican/Trump regime in Washington, D.C and the major mainstream media.

One of the first things that friends on the island talked about to me right after Maria hit was the stoplight and streetlight situation—yet there have been almost no news reports about it here. Driving has become a situation where you take your life in your hands, and pray that you will make it to your destination alive, without having an accident. This Florida local television report was the most recent one I could find.

In the week I was home in Puerto Rico, I almost got into four car accidents because streetlights and traffic lights weren’t working. When you can’t even guarantee the safety of people just trying to get home from work, statistics showing “how well we’re doing” don’t paint an accurate picture of life on the island.

SAN JUAN – While more than 100 days have passed since Hurricane Maria left a path of destruction across Puerto Rico, traveling by car still leaves many drivers breathless as they maneuver through the many intersections left with damaged traffic lights.

“Although we have had to [write up] purchase orders for materials from the United States, because there are parts that are not available in Puerto Rico, as these materials arrive, we have made progress with other repairs. However, there are cases of intersections with traffic lights that have already been repaired, but depend on other factors to make them work,” the secretary added.

The lack of lighting on the highways is also a real danger. Fly into San Juan, leave the airport, and you are faced with pitch black roadways. Head into neighborhoods which may have PREPA or generator power (when not undergoing frequent mini-blackouts and shutdowns) however the darkened streets make many older people afraid to leave their homes.

Deputy Chief Orlando Rolon explains why 12 members of the @OrlandoPolice Department are headed to Puerto Rico. We will be partnering with @PRPDNoticias on their recovery efforts. pic.twitter.com/bS5sijUZEN— Orlando Police (@OrlandoPolice) December 4, 2017

I spend a lot of time pondering the question of why we can’t seem to garner massive support here, for our folks on the island. Perhaps people don’t give a damn because they don’t view Puerto Ricans as Americans? Perhaps many mainlanders assume ( wrongly) that Puerto Ricans don’t pay U.S. taxes so why should they get government aid?

Perhaps they view Puerto Ricans as “criminal others” given that most Puerto Ricans speak Spanish, and Donald Trump has portrayed Latinos/Hispanics as drug-dealers, gang members and rapists. Perhaps it is racism plus xenophobia since Puerto Ricans are thought of as not-white, even though many are.

Perhaps because the U.S. national media has dropped the ball on paying daily attention to conditions in Puerto Rico and only public broadcasting and blogs do serious coverage. Perhaps, because many news stories that make headlines in Puerto Rico are in Spanish, and mainland news services don’t translate and disseminate them—island news stays in a bubble of local consumption.

(I just saw this happen with the Puerto Rican National Strike on May Day. Zero major media coverage here in advance, and the U.S media only bothered to cover the end of the marches—when marchers were tear gassed. Much of that coverage was filtered through an anti-protest, pro-police action lens.)

A solution to the traffic light and street light situation exists. I know that the British Virgin Islands and other parts of the Caribbean have installed, and are installing solar powered traffic and roadway lights. This could be an answer for the current situation in Puerto Rico, however answers and solutions cost money—and given the intransigence of the Fiscal Control Board and austerity measures supported by the current governor—doubtful any long-term solutions will take place any time soon. Only a massive demand from those of us here on the mainland and a change of our government will turn moral support into an economic reality.

Currently, most of the political will to do something comes from politicians who live in areas with large mainland Puerto Rican populations. To date the elected official who has provided the most ongoing aid to Puerto Rico is New York’s Governor Mario Cuomo, who arrived in PR and the USVI before Trump and keeps going back and sending more help. The most influential public figure who has been working delivering hands-on aid has been former President Bill Clinton via his role with the Clinton Foundation.

Yes, other politicians—mostly Democrats—have spoken up, held press conferences and taken steps to help Puerto Ricans who fled the island and landed in their districts, like Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, but their efforts cannot be translated into national and administrative policy as long as Republicans hold the reins of power. I have to admit I wonder that if and when Democrats are back in the driver’s seat if Puerto Rico will be anywhere near the top of our national agenda.

Back to traffic and stop lights: I grew up in New York City, where there were always news articles about angry residents demanding traffic lights at busy intersections, usually after a pedestrian death. I’m curious. How long would you put up with no working traffic lights and streetlights in your city? What you would do to get the situation fixed?