Mexico City has its faults; its residents live under the constant threat of earthquakes, and the city regularly experiences tremors and occasional minor quakes. But it is the man-made disasters, rather than the natural ones, that threaten to destroy the city which has been called the Paris of the Western Hemisphere.
The traffic may be the world’s worst. Getting around in Mexico City is nerve-wracking, slow, and hazardous to life and limb. A traffic death is reported in the city every seven hours; an injury, every forty minutes. Property damage each year reaches millions of dollars. A recent traffic study concluded that the average speed on Mexico City’s streets is seven miles an hour—and that includes occasional spurts of up to fifty mph whenever a driver spots a rare open road. But it also takes into account massive traffic jams where cars don’t move for ten or fifteen minutes. Most of the streets are narrow and winding, and sometimes five or even six streets converge at intersections. There are stop signs and traffic signals, to be sure, but drivers ignore them cheerfully, respecting only the law of survival of the fittest.
There’s no use trying to escape by turning to public transportation. Buses have to use the same roads as all those cars that aren’t going anywhere. The modern subway system, only four years old, is already inadequate; it was originally planned to carry one million passengers daily but is now moving nearly double that amount.
Mexico City is the nation’s industrial backbone, its Pittsburgh and Detroit rolled into one. The heavy industry and 1.3 million automobiles combine to spew out more than 4600 tons of waste into the air over the city each day. This polluted air is almost perpetually trapped within the ring of mountains which surround the city, turning the sky a constant gray-brown except during brief periods when rain or wind storms