DYING IN TRAFFIC – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Traffic

When we lived in Boston, traffic was life. It was like getting up in the morning. It was getting to work, the grocery, the doctor. Anything and you always had to calculate how much “extra” time you needed to deal with traffic.

I had audiobooks in the car to keep my brain engaged. Traffic was as fundamental as roads and bridges. You couldn’t go anywhere without adding an extra hour — in case traffic was bad.

Traffic was always bad, but sometimes, it was lethal. These days, I don’t think about traffic because we don’t have much. We don’t commute. If we need to drive, we schedule it for when there is likely to be little or no traffic. Locally, a traffic jam is a tractor with two cars waiting at an intersection.

Or road repairs.

Until we moved here, traffic was a primary issue in our lives. It controlled our working days and holidays. Gridlock before and during holidays could effectively close the city. I once tried to pick Garry up from Channel 7 which was less than a mile from home. Normally, he walked, but he had things to carry and so he asked me to come and get him.

I left the parking lot, drove a block, and had to stop. Nothing was moving. An hour later, I was in the same place. I finally made a U-turn and went back to the apartment. The next day “GRIDLOCK” was the headline. The entire city had been stuck because it was the Friday before Christmas.

Less than a year later, we moved from Boston to Roxbury, about 4 miles outside downtown Boston. There were trees. Empty lots. Almost the suburbs. You could park — for free — on the street.

Then came the Big Dig.

The Central Artery-Tunnel Project, called The Big Dig, was a monstrous project involving rerouting and redesigning virtually every road in, out, around, and through Boston. If you lived in the city, there were no areas unaffected by it. It was supposed to solve the city’s traffic disaster. Ultimately, it made it easier to get to the airport, but the rest of it? It’s still a permanent jam that will never go away.

Was it worth it?

The Big Dig was the most expensive highway project in history. To absolutely no one’s surprise, it was plagued by cost overruns, scheduling disasters, water leakage, collapses of ceilings and other parts of roads and tunnels, impressive design flaws, blatantly poor workmanship, nepotism, corruption, payoffs, substandard materials, criminal arrests for a some of the aforementioned offenses (but not nearly enough), and four deaths.

The project was supposed to be finished by 1998 and cost $2.8 billion. I am sure no one in Boston expected it to cost that or be finished on schedule — and we were right. It took an additional nine years and was finally finished in December 2007  It cost more than $14.6 billion. The Boston Globe estimates when all is said and done, including interest and fines, lawsuits and so on, the project will total more than $22 billion and won’t be paid off until sometime in 2038. Or later.

The Big Dig forced us out of Boston. One day, I had to go grocery shopping. The supermarket was a mile away. It took me two hours to get there and another hour and a half to get home.

“Garry,” I said that evening, “Let’s get out of here!”

We did.

Local roads

We fled. Traffic had overtaken over our world. Nothing was fun. We couldn’t go to a restaurant or a movie. We couldn’t shop, park, or get to or from work and should we get where we were going, there was nowhere to park. People trying to visit couldn’t find our us because the exit to our neighborhood kept moving and was often closed. Out-of-towners roamed helplessly through Dorchester, looking in vain for a street sign.

Sometimes we couldn’t find our way home.

We must have spent years of our lives sitting in traffic.

We live in cities because that’s where the jobs are. You don’t find jobs with a future in small towns in the country. With all the telecommuting talk, most jobs still require you to be there. Most jobs require live interaction with colleagues and customers.

We underestimate how badly the wear and tear of commuting affect our lives and psyche. If it takes hours to get to work, you are already tired when you get there. Public transportation often takes even longer than a car and is a lot less comfortable.

Work is easy. Traffic is a killer.

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Writer, photography, blogger. Previously, technical writer. Retired! Yay!

19 thoughts on “DYING IN TRAFFIC – Marilyn Armstrong”

  1. Amen. When I left CA, I was commuting (at minimum) 75 miles each day — often 100. Gas cost me $400/month. Granted, traffic wasn’t a big problem for me, usually, since I had 7 am classes so I was on the road very early and 7 pm classes so I was on the road pretty late, but if something happened (fire, body, whatever) I could be stuck for hours. I’m very glad not to be dealing with that now.

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    1. I think it was the commuting that finally did me in. I was working in Groton, Connecticut and it was more than 100 miles each way. Even with audiobooks, it was the commute that never ended. It wasn’t even heavy traffic usually. It was just a long, long road and I got more exhausted each day. Until one day, I couldn’t do it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. We never had a car in London, so I had no experience with traffic. I did everything by bus and underground. I had a few driving lessons, but not very long. I learned in Switzerland and have never really enjoyed it, but I can still drive and do if necessary. Boston must have been a nightmare. We are spoilt in comparison in Switzerland. The big towns have their problems and there are Swiss bottlenecks, but they are Swiss and not local and you know where they are and how to avoid them.

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    1. And I lived in New York, so there was no reason to drive. You could always get there by bus or subway. It never crossed my mind to learn to drive until suddenly, I was out in the suburbs and transportation — even with trains and buses — really did require a car. It took me a long time to learn. Owen was already a toddler by the time I finally took lessons and even then, I didn’t feel as if I truly knew how to drive.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. For my last job (The Job From Hell), I had a 5-minute commute. Now it’s about 35 minutes, which is OK by me as I avoid the daily highway gridlock by taking local roads. Except now. My town, for whatever reason, decided to tear up and install new sewer lines and repave two of my local roads – the two nearest my house. My street is ok, but to get anywhere else, I have to drive around in the opposite direction until I get to a street that isn’t under construction. And, of course, when the highways are gridlocked, everyone else tries to re-route to the local streets, which are impassable, forcing them onto my local (and unfamiliar to them) streets so traffic is currently a nightmare. Royal pain in the … Construction’s supposed to be completed by the end of this week. I sure hope so.

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    1. Around here, it’s the river bridges. Many of them are old and not in great shape, so periodically, one is declared unsafe … and suddenly, you discover you can’t get from Uxbridge to Blackstone without a 20-mile drive to another bridge. But we are rural, so they don’t spend money out here. Not until the bridges ACTUALLY fall down.

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  4. One huge reason I left Salt Lake City for this wee town far north was the traffic. It was nowhere near the level of Boston or LA (or California freeways in general…yikes!!) , but it was getting bad enough that I knew I didn’t want to have to deal with it any longer. Like you, a traffic jam here might constitute a hay wagon or a tractor, a horse trailer or some other farm implement, but that’s changing. Makes me aware I’ll probably be changing my abode again, at least once in this lifetime. Salt Lake now is polluted (the air literally stinks), the roads are in poor shape (despite almost constant construction of some form or another), and it’s dangerous to drive there…a lot of gun happy idiots driving around, armed and dangerous, who will shoot someone for a perceived slight or the wrong color car. And in Utah things are further complicated by having ‘one road in and one road out’ by way of main arteries. If I-15 fails, or is blocked, much of Utah will be stranded or unable to get help in an emergency. And ‘they’ (those faceless people who run things) are trying to expand the infrastructure, but for whatever reason, keep failing to provide better options.

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    1. That’s true everywhere. Here, everyone is so proud that we have a surplus of a billion dollars in the treasury. We also have hundreds of collapsing bridges and roads so poorly maintained, many of them are being abandoned. And did I mention the catastrophe of our trains? Our government fixes what’s easy to fix, but they never fix what needs to be fixed and will cost some real money.

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  5. I’ve never lived in a city as large as Boston (Vancouver has a population of about 4 mil. which is end to end because you have to travel through all of it to get from end to end, there were no by-passes) and it wasn’t half bad tbh. You did have to schedule 1 hour drive time undoubtedly and without exception whatever time of day you were driving. I can’t imagine being stuck in traffic for hours at a time. Yikes!

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    1. When I got to Boston in 1987 (Garry’s been here since 1970), it wasn’t so bad. There was parking. You could drive downtown and there were reasonably priced garages. Then came the big hi-tech explosion in the late 80s and suburbs became city and rural became suburb and everyone started owning one car for every person over 17. And then there was no parking anywhere anymore … AND THEN came the big dig which effectively eliminated ALL public parking along the wharf area (where we used to go to eat) and the North End (Italian area where we went to enjoy great food and street parties). It literally vanished overnight.

      The restaurants closed. Some moved elsewhere and went from normal price places with great food to wildly expensive places with mediocre food. When we moved to Roxbury, it was sort of a suburb. Technically in Boston, but really, on the far edge. But not for long.

      We got discovered and the Big Dig moved onto our street. They tore up every road. Eliminated all parking. Made it impossible to do even basic things like buy groceries or go to the diner. And the DIRT. When they did up all the roads, they make a gawdawful mess.

      We got a great deal on our house and we RAN FOR THE HILLS.

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      1. Holy crap! I dont know who makes these decisions, but they surely don’t take into account the local businesses that MAKE up the community, nor the people who frequent them. I can’t imagine the frustration and loss associated!

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  6. You bring back so many memories of Boston commuting, living in Dorchester, then in Stoneham. And 22 years of driving from Winchendon to Acton to teach. Now I love looking out at the rain and thinking “I don’t have to leave this house for days.”

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  7. There was a time when, if you knew where you were going, you could get there. The streets pretty much stayed where they had always been, and if you were desperate, there was also the subway. A few years back a doctor said I needed a fairly delicate operation, and suggested Peter Bent Brigham, in Boston. I said, you must be insane. He said, I go that way all the time, Im affiliated with the hospital there. It’s a piece of cake.
    I said, we are country people. I would never ask my husband to take me anywhere in Boston unless we both knew where we were going. Even if we got in, we’d still have to get out. No.
    He fussed and shuffled his feet and then said, what about Hanover? Sold. And I went to Hanover. Piece of cake.

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    1. We NEVER go into Boston if we have a choice. But for my heart surgery, that IS where I went and I am very glad a did. I think if I’d waited around for them out here, I’d be dead, buried, and decomposed. There are things they simply don’t have the staffing for out this way and superb heart surgeons — and brilliant cancer surgeons (Boston for that, too) — are two of them.

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  8. 3rd photo: That’s my Kia! ( OK – that’s very LIKE my Kia. 😉 )

    Truth is – there are just WAY too many people living in cities these days… very, very angry people at that.

    The fewer people there are in an area, the better you can know them, the better you know them the less likely you are to want to kill them. (Mother-in-laws excepted! ) 😉

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  9. Our traffic problems are nothing compared to big city issues but we do occasionally get gridlocked. It happened last week when there was an accident on the main road into Hobart. Lanes were closed and because there is no alternative route traffic was chaos for hours. Two friends were in Hobart that day and one said that it took her two hours to get home, normally it would be around half an hour.
    What your descriptions of Boston traffic does remind me of though is a chapter in a very funny SF book called “Where Were You Last Pluterday” by Paul van Herck. He describes horror commutes where a driver could be jailed for life for breaking down on the highway. I don’t know if you can get it in audio book form but it would give you a laugh, sort of Douglas Adams meets Monty Python. It was a favourite of David’s and he introduced me to it soon after we met.

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