Our fragile infrastructure

Friday the 13th was a traffic and commuting nightmare in the center of Washington, D.C. A power outage in the neighborhood of the White House, plus two fires along the subway tracks, created a traffic mess. Few intersections had traffic police to sort out the traffic chaos. Electricity was cut to scores of office buildings and several subway stations. Subway patrons were trapped in dark tunnels, but subway officials had no flashlights to hand out. New emergency backup generators weren’t used. Three pedestrians were hit by cars where traffic lights were out.

In other words: total bedlam. Emergency response was terrible. Communications was poor.

No terrorism was involved.

As The Washington Post (14 June 2008) put it:

A single switch in a Pepco substation failed yesterday morning, cutting power to the heart of the nation’s capital, including the White House and downtown offices. The outage shut down Metro stations, threw rush-hour traffic into a state of bedlam and highlighted how vulnerable the city can be.

“It was like each man for himself. Trucks were pulling out in front of buses; people were on the street. It was like a Third World country,” said David Zaidain, 34, a city planner who was stunned by the level of anarchy he encountered while walking to work along Ninth Street NW. “We’re living under this veil of potential terror, and this is how the city responds to something like this?”

On the same page, The Post reported on the aging infrastructure of D.C.’s Metro subway system.

Four major Metro disruptions in 10 days underscore the strains facing the region’s largest transit agency as the system ages. Its infrastructure is old and needs to be replaced. It is the nation’s only major transit system without a significant source of dedicated funding. And its two-track design, comparable to a two-lane road instead of multi-lane superhighway, gives transit officials little flexibility when trains and other systems break down, as they are doing with greater frequency.

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