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Free Me from Freeway Gridlock

October 2, 2007 By

Over the summer, my wife and I had to make a trip from Sacramento to San Francisco. She was forcibly dragging me to her high-school reunion - though it turned out to be slightly less miserable than I was anticipating.

I've made the 90-mile drive more times than I can count, yet stupidly chose to take the most direct route - Interstate 80. It was a Saturday afternoon, I said to myself, "How many people could possibly be on the road?" Sadly as we approached the aptly nicknamed "Berkeley Crawl" - a section of "freeway" that leads to Oakland and the Bay Bridge - I realized my costly mistake. I hadn't anticipated the thousands of people battling to get to downtown San Francisco in hopes of seeing Barry Bonds inject himself into baseball's record books.

The Berkeley Crawl is a hellish bit of interstate. It always works the same way. When approaching from the east, traffic is light and all seems well. One is lulled into a sense that this time, finally, there won't be the sort of soul-crushing gridlock there was on the previous trip. The freeway gently slopes upward and swoops to the left, affording grand views of the bay.

Upon cresting the hill, however, I was confronted with a nightmarish vision of things to come. Laid out before me was what seemed like millions of cars crammed together in some parking lot designed by Satan himself. I felt as though I was looking directly into the eyes of madness.

For 90 minutes we inched along in our metal coffin, the Bay Bridge a mere mile away. I could clearly see the great span, our salvation, beckoning in the afternoon sun. But I could not reach it. I calculated our average speed as somewhere in the neighborhood of 0.7 mph. My mood deteriorated quickly. The fact that we were headed somewhere I didn't want to go in the first place made being part of this slowly, snaking steel conduit even more unbearable.

Finally, after high tension and raised blood pressure shaved at least a year off my life expectancy, we reached the tollbooth where a silent employee dutifully extracted $4 from me. Meanwhile, I watched as a few cars with FasTrak whizzed through their gilded, beautifully empty lanes. I cursed myself for failing to possess one.

With tens of millions of new Californians expected over the next few decades, I shudder to think of what traffic will be like in the future. It should be clear to anyone that simply adding more lanes to freeways is a shortsighted solution. Are high-speed trains the answer? Perhaps. Does anyone with the power to build them have the political will to do so? Probably not. Since we are already sliding toward a nanny-state, maybe we can force everyone to have FasTrak, you know, for their own good.

I am but a lowly writer - a man with neither the know-how nor resources to change the future. I don't even get paid real money - I get paid in cured meats. While sad, I am looking forward to next week's honey baked ham - if only I could afford an appliance on which to cook it.

But you, dear readers, you are the ones with the power. You are the innovators, the technologists and the change agents. I beg you, use your powers to change transportation's currently bleak future.

Change it before the Berkeley Crawl ceases to be the exception and becomes the rule.

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