Thursday, May 16, 2013

Stuck in Traffic

A Serious Case of Over-Drive

             “Stuck in traffic” is so common here in Hampton Roads, VA, that no one is ever surprised if you’re late. Late is normal, especially for people who have to take one of the tunnels to get where they’re going. Tunnel traffic backs up almost every day. I don’t see how the thousands of people can stand it who have to go through the tunnels to get to work.
            Call me small town, I guess. Yesterday I had a poetry gig in Newport News. I live in Norfolk. That means I had to take the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel across the Chesapeake Bay to get to my destination. Traffic was heavy but not congested, which means that most people drive over 65 mph in a speed zone posted at 55. I’m not comfortable with that and neither is my ‘97 Chevy Cavalier. We’re trying to extend our time together, so I hold my speed at 60, give or take a few.
            Meanwhile, traffic whizzes by me like I’m standing still. Lanes I’m driving in suddenly disappear, forcing me to merge with the speeding cars coming up from behind. I don’t drive that much on the expressways, and frankly it’s a little like a scary acid trip until I get the hang of it.
            But it wasn’t the speed that stood out for me the most yesterday. It was the spectacle of no movement at all.
            Jala and I were coming back from my gig at about 4 p.m. We ran into only one patch of congestion where we had to creep and crawl for a few miles. I considered that really good luck and was thankful for it.
            As we reached the tunnel, however, I thought I caught sight of traffic standing still in the northbound lanes coming out of Norfolk. “Uh-oh,” I thought, and when we emerged on the other side of the tunnel I saw it was true. The west-bound lanes were standing still for miles. (To see what I mean, click here and view photos published in the Virginian Pilot.)
            “That looks like hell over there,” I said to Jala. “And people do this every day.”
            And we mentioned people we know who do.
            “It’s not sustainable,” I said, imagining even more cars in time to come as population continues to grow. Politicians vote to build more roads to accommodate the commerce, but more roads bring more cars, more greenhouse gases, more climate change. I don’t really see a way out of these spiraling conditions except to keep my business as close to home as I can.
           Face it, “stuck in traffic” has become part of the American way of life, of which Hampton Roads is a typical example. To me, it’s sort of a nightmare, but I don’t know what to do to wake up from it. I’m not an engineer or a scientist or a city planner, and I have to make a living and run my errands, too.
            But I feel for the people who are stuck in traffic day after day after day. I don’t imagine there are many who enjoy that. I do imagine that great numbers of restless people stuck in traffic can create a collective force field of impatience and anger, which in turn makes our roadways toxic, and not just from exhaust fumes.
            I hate to say it was better in the old days, but to me it was. I enjoyed driving. Now I feel vulnerable on the main roads and highways and exasperated at the frequent back-ups. Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s because I’m not used to driving on the expressways that much, maybe it’s that there are so many more cars on the road than there used to be. Whatever the reason, I think the so-called American Way of Life is over-developed and unsustainable. It’s got a serious case of over-drive, and we don’t seem able or willing to make the basic changes necessary to get healthy again unless a lot more people become content enough—or poor enough—to just stay at home.
            The cost to our society of our much-touted mobility has become too high.


At 11:00 PM , Anonymous Ann said...

Ironies piled on top of ironies--


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