1. I’m not stuck in a car on “the 405,” breathing exhaust fumes and trapped forever in angry, soul-deadening gridlock.
2. I don’t have to drive to some faraway location this Thanksgiving. In fact, I may not need to drive at all.
3. I don’t live in southern California. Sorry, all you people out in LA and thereabouts: I just don’t see how you can stand the traffic. What passes for a traffic jam in Columbus would be viewed as a pretty good day on Golden State freeways.
Lately my standard commute to work has been torturous. Whether it is random accidents, or increased congestion due to the new homes and apartments being built in New Albany and points east, I am consistently enduring traffic jams on my way to the office.
I’m not a happy camper about it. There are few things more irritating than crawling along in stop-and-go traffic, trying to figure out which lane might have the accident or be most likely to start moving. It’s intolerable, and I inevitably reach the office in a foul mood as a result. It’s not good for my car, either. The interior has been severely scorched and some of the plastic fixtures partially melted by my more heated traffic jam epithets.
So, it’s time for a change. Living in the ‘burbs, that means I have two options: take the other route (because there really are only two options) or leave early. There are a bunch of homes being built on the other route, so I’m going to shoot for leaving 15 minutes early.
This is not as easy as it sounds, and there are risks. As Kish would tell you, I’m a creature of habit, and I like to follow my morning routine of walk, coffee, blog posting, get dressed, drive. I’m going to have to speed up the schedule. And all those accidents I’m encountering obviously have to happen before I leave at my standard time. Who knows? Perhaps the early departure time will put me squarely into the bad driver/accident zone.
It’s a risk I’m willing to take, because the traffic jams just suck.
The I-670 ramp to Third Street, which provides access from the east side to downtown Columbus, is closed for extensive repairs. It will be closed for months.
It’s only one of thousands — make that hundreds of thousands — of highway ramps in the United States. But for me, it’s perhaps the most important ramp. Its closure means that my principal route to work, the one that has been ingrained into my brain and every fiber of my being after years of mindless commuting, is not available. It means that I have to get out of my mental rut, abandon my snug comfort zone, and find another route to the heart of downtown Columbus during the morning rush hour. It means I have to experiment with alternatives during a time of day when hastily selected alternative routes usually mean delay and disaster.
So far I’ve tried two options. The planned alternative has the weird, jury-rigged feel you often get with traffic engineer reroutings. You exit I-670 at I-71, follow a narrow, two-lane channel between temporary barricades, then make a hairpin two-lane exit onto Spring Street. I’ve taken that route several times, two of which embroiled me in significant traffic jams. The other option was an experiment that ended in colossal failure. I exited I-670 one stop early, wound through some city streets, then found myself snarled in complete gridlock around the Columbus State campus. I won’t be trying that option again.
I’m steeling myself for the challenge of finding that elusive alternative route that will take me smoothly downtown on uncongested streets. In the meantime, I’m just going to brace myself — and leave 10 minutes earlier than normal.
Today I’m holding my breath about getting to work, because yesterday’s morning drive caused me to realize, once again, that many of my fellow commuters are dangerous lunatics.
Sometime early yesterday a tanker truck overturned near the intersection of Route 161 and I-270, two of the major roads in Columbus. Both highways were closed in both directions for the entire morning rush hour. As a result, thousands of cars that normally use those arteries had to find alternative routes, and the entire east side of Columbus quickly became a paralyzed mass of red-faced, frustrated drivers. Every road heading in the direction of downtown was filled with cars inching along, bumper to bumper, going nowhere.
It’s amazing how quickly the veneer of civilization is ripped away when this kind of thing happens. After a few minutes of delay and the horrifying sight of long lines of stationary cars, drivers get the sinking feeling that this is going to be bad — and then the inner savage appears. Selfish drivers blithely block intersections as traffic lights change, infuriating everyone trying to get through the crossing. Drivers recklessly weave in and out, change lanes to move forward a single car length, and abruptly make illegal U-turns. Some people will drive on the berm, and other self-nominated traffic code enforcers try to block them from doing so.
You look at the well-dressed people in the stopped cars around you, gesturing angrily or beating their hands against the steering wheel, and you wonder whether they shouldn’t be wearing face paint and bearskins.