Monday, September 04, 2017

mind the gap

"In Texas, we don't fix the potholes, we just lower the speed limit."

That was my nurse friend Linda Lemons responding to my complaint of the road conditions around San Antonio in 1971.

I think of her whenever I explain topes to visitors. Up north, we call them speed bumps. Here, they are often nicknamed "sleeping policemen."

Their purpose is to slow traffic. Something they do quite effectively. The problem is that they are not uniform in construction. Some are barely more than painted stripes on the highway. Others can be just as jarring as crashing into the Great Wall of China.

A friend once commented on how coincidental it was that there are muffler or tire or auto mechanic shops near almost every tope. It is not a coincidence. Topes provide a steady revenue stream for more than a few relatives of civic authorities who plant those concrete bumps in the public way.

Almost every tope has a common feature. There will be at least one gap in the obstruction. Usually, in the center.

Initially I fell into the utilitarian error when trying to determine the gap's purpose. Because motorcycles use them to avoid bumping over the tope, I thought each tope had been designed for the comfort of motorcyclists.

That may be true. But I suspect I was confabulating what I saw into a creation design. That is one of the dangers of Aristotelian primary cause logic.

For the past week, we have been treated to regular rain storms. Because we live on a flood plain that has been paved and developed, rain water, that once was absorbed into our sandy soil, now runs like rivulets in the streets.

If the topes were not laid with their gaps, the streets would look a good deal like the Columbia River dam system. Grand Coulee. John Day. The Dalles. All with their resultant reservoirs. Proving that you are sometimes dammed if you do.

As it is, other engineering problems create enough major pools in the streets. The tope pictured at the top of this essay is actually higher than the street itself. Even with the gap, pedestrians are stymied. At least, pedestrians who are reluctant to wade through the sewage that backs up in our seasonal street lakes.

Fortunately, the gaps in most of the topes allow a free flow of rain water. Most of it eventually ends up in the laguna. Along with everything else it carries.

As I write this, we are having another dramatic thunderstorm. With more rain.

At least, on my walk tomorrow, i will doff the hat I do not wear to Mexican engineering. My feet will be the drier for it. 

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