Today’s Anne Applebaum column got me to thinking:
In New Orleans, as we now know, the numbers who didn’t evacuate were multiplied dramatically by the city’s unusual immobility: Some 57,000 households in Orleans Parish did not own a car. A University of New Orleans study published in July noted that only 48 percent of the inhabitants of Orleans Parish had a definite evacuation plan. Susan Howell, one of the study’s authors, says emergency managers knew of this immobile population and had discussed them, inconclusively: “There was no comprehensive plan to get them out.” The city made no provision either for the people who wouldn’t leave or for the people who couldn’t. On the day before the storm, the “mandatory evacuation” was announced over the radio — but there were no officials delivering a personal message, let alone distributing toe tags. The interstates out of New Orleans were turned into one-way roads — but there were no buses, trains or ships for those who couldn’t drive. The city initially won praise for evacuating some 80 percent of 1.4 million area residents, but no provision — in the form of rations, water bottles, security — was made for the 25,000 people who showed up, predictably, at the Superdome, the city’s designated “shelter of last resort.”
What Applebaum made me think about was San Francisco, a city I called home for a couple years.
Like many New Orleans residents, I didn’t own a car while I lived in San Francisco. OK, I technically did own a 1984 Mazda B-2000, which sometimes could be coaxed into running. But in a disaster, even if it was running, I might as well have not owned a car. Parking it in the city was too expensive. So, I kept it illegally parked in a residential neighborhood next door to the Daly City BART station. Once every week or two, when I actually had to drive somewhere, I’d take the BART down to Daly and pick up my truck.
Most of my city friends didn’t own cars, either. Or if they did, they had some arrangement like mine. We were young, we weren’t making too much money, and between the BART, the Muni, and the Metro, there wasn’t anywhere we in town we couldn’t get to in 20 minutes.
But what if disaster had struck?
San Francisco crowds 750,000 people into less than 50 square miles at the tip of a long, skinny peninsula. There are only five ways out of town. You can take the Golden Gate Bridge north into Marin, the Bay Bridge east into Oakland, I-280 or the 101 south into the peninsula, or the BART.
After a major earthquake, something bigger than the 7.1 back in ’89, and you can bet that both bridges and the BART would be closed for business. All anyone would have left is the highways.
And traffic on those roads sucks, even on lazy, sunny afternoon.
Picture three quarters of a million people, trying to go south on two underbuilt highways. Now imagine that the 2 million more people south of them are all trying to do the same thing.
Then remember that they’ll all be dodging and weaving a couple hundred thousand people like I was: pedestrians.
And, oh yeah, some bridges might have collapsed.