Commute Diary #4: Maxed Out
Leaving work right around 5pm and biking home in rush hour traffic is always a big treat. Swooping past the blocks of cars waiting to get on the freeway in Portland’s Rose Quarter is one of my life’s not-so-guilty pleasures. I don’t take pleasure in the frustration of people caught in traffic, but the freedom to move down busy streets with relaxed alertness rather than stiff, fearful caution is a joy I’ve only experienced during group bike rides like Critical Mass. During rush hour in Portland, cars form their own Critical Mass. Their daily demonstration is more effective than the bicycle variety, as it’s always well-heeded by leaders who want to widen roads and add more asphalt to our green-ish city. I wish these blacktop-happy folks would read up on induced demand before making their case, but that’s beside my point today, which is the extreme joy that comes from even a minor, exhaust-choked respite from having to dodge moving cars.
Anyway, on Tuesday we left work at 5:10 and the traffic was backed up for blocks and blocks and blocks. It’s always fascinating to watch the inappropriate and dangerous ways drivers react to other cars being in their way, and this particular commute was especially stimulating, which made up for the extra caution needed as we watched cars swerve into the bike lane, accelerate suddenly to turn down side streets, and, at one point, scoot out of the way as a frustrated bus driver took to the sidewalk for a dozen feet to get around a box truck that was taking its half out of the middle.
We passed the freeway and the traffic only seemed to get worse. As we crossed Burnside, we ran into a friend waiting to cross the street, and stopped to say hello. He told us what was up: The light rail was skipping downtown during a long construction period, meaning most commuters were skipping the light rail and its clunky shuttle over the gap. He was walking home from work, he said because the buses were packed, and way off schedule because of the roads clogged with cars. Maybe he’ll start biking later this week, he said.
If this all isn’t an argument for functional commuter rail transportation, I don’t know what is. In the meantime, I’ll take my joys where I can get them, even when they’re in the most unlikely (and probably unpopular) places.