“The businessman takes the train, it saves time.” A poster on the wall of a cafe at the Gare de Lyon in Paris. (Photos: Lisa Caballero/BikePortlnd)

I’ve been in Paris for the past month. Add that to the three months I spent here a year ago, and it becomes the most time I’ve ever spent outside of the US.

I’ve continued to help Jonathan with BikePortland comment moderation, which works out well. With the nine-hour time difference, we can push your comments through twenty-four hours a day!

But being here, and doing that, puts me in a situation I’m not used to—reading about home from afar. There is nothing unusual about this, many people—immigrants, guest workers, refugees, students abroad, military personnel, Peace Corps volunteers—have this experience, but it’s new for me.

Specifically, reading about US transportation issues on BikePortland while in a country which has already, for years, taken bold steps toward safer streets and reduced car use is, well, disorienting.

TGV with text promoting reduced carbon emissions.

For example, I’ve taken France’s high speed train, the TGV, twice in the past few weeks. Sandwiched between those two trips was the BikePortland post about the proposed ultra high speed Cascadia line.

The post garnered 69 comments, and it feels like I pushed most of them through. What knowledgeable discussions and debate! BikePortland has a lot of readers who are in the biz, and others who are just plain well-informed.

One comment stuck with me because I knew it was incorrect but didn’t have the facts at hand. The commenter was questioning the carbon savings of high speed rail and challenging the assertion that the train could be an alternative to driving or flying.

Back to France. Within the week, the missing carbon facts rolled by me on the side of the TGV I had just exited. The green text in the photo above says, “Thank you for choosing us, together we emit less carbon: 50 times less than a car, 80 times less than a plane.”

But there’s more. Earlier this month, the European Commission decided in favor of France’s initial steps to curtail domestic air flights to cities which have rapid train service. That’s right, France wants people out of planes and into the train—and the EU has backed them up. The immediate effect of this new ruling will be small, only a few cities qualify for the new regulation, but it is significant in that it gives the green light to this type of regulation in countries throughout Europe, and the conditions can be broadened in the future.

Can you imagine something like that happening in the US?

So I savor my TGV journeys and push your comments through, and I write this without spit or bile. Mostly what I feel is compassion. We’ve got a lot of change coming our way.

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