Saturday, November 3, 2007

Day Three - 30 Creative Days Hath November

Gridlock Cometh, Film At 11

I knew better, I really did, but a Halloween demon possessed me last Saturday morning and shoved me out into the world to run errands.

Good grief, good God and holy moly!

In THIS post, I mentioned some of the incredible growth that my Northern California town has experienced in the past ten years, making it in 2005 the fastest growing city in the U.S. That growth hasn't stopped -- in fact, about a quarter mile from my home is an immense new subdivision which will add X number of homes and yet another huge shopping center.

To compound the misery, a mega-mall with 1.3 million square feet of retail shopping, has been in the works a couple of miles beyond the current project. EEEEK!

(I just spent an hour trying to quantify X above and failed, although I did find a fascinating article on the city's web site about beavers in the water drainage system. Whatever X equals is a whole lot...thousands of homes, and the shopping center will be immense. )

I have no room to complain about this growth since I too moved here into a new development that had transformed agricultural land into tract homes.

Oh wait...I forgot. It's my blog... I can complain.

This town sits at the bottom of the commute food chain, served by two major freeways -- neither of which has been expanded to accomodate the three zillion daily commuters who need to drive the 25 miles to and from the city. If you're forced to travel in commute direction morning and evening, you'd better pee before you get in your car and you'd better have a snack or two handy 'cause you'll only be inching along, nose to tail, for all of those 25 miles. Gridlock isn't an exaggeration - it's an irritating and worsening reality along the corridor.

Equally as bad, the town itself is served by only two major boulevards, conveying people who live THERE to THESE shopping centers, and those who live HERE to THOSE shopping centers. Apparently in California there's some unspoken rule against shopping closer than five miles to your home. Part two of that rule is that all families must run weekly errands on Saturday, between ten and four o'clock.

According to the confusing public information regarding the new development near me, there won't be any additional boulevards added. Those X number of houses with their 4.5 residents and 2.5 cars each will just have to squeeze into the existing roads and clogged freeways.

Which brings me to my point.... Saturday, at exactly 12:22 p.m., we officially reached absolute gridlock IN TOWN.

I sat for at least 15 minutes at the outlet of a shopping center, trying to merge onto one of those packed boulevards. By the time the lights changed to allow a new direction of traffic flow, there were so many cars stacked up waiting that nothing flowed. It was intersection constipation that no asphalt X-Lax could solve... and don't underestimate those 15 minutes... traffic minutes are measured like dog years and I got a lot older sitting there.

I think I witnessed a watershed point, I really do. The straw that broke the camel's back, the drop of water that burst the dam, the final piece of the puzzle slipping into...pick your analogy. We've been teetering on the edge of exceeding street capacity for months, and today was THE day -- and that's while the X number of houses nearby are only in the framing stage and the shopping center has yet to rise.

I know that with all the government regulations and EPA requirements lengthy and expensive traffic studies must have been done -- so would this juggernaut have been anticipated and judged to be acceptable? No one performing those studies or voting on projects has to go to Target on Saturday or fill up their car with $3.28/gallon gas? Gridlock is an option that was approved by development councils and other mucky-mucks?

It would certainly seem so. How else can you take 50 square miles and cram them with houses, people, cars, taco and pizza palaces, electronics stores and gas stations and not prepare for the traffic they'll bring?

I guess that question has a multiple-choice answer:
A) Gridlock is acceptable. Tough shit, residents.
B) Growth without limits is good, full steam ahead and damn the consequences.
C) It won't happen - a miracle will occur first (aka the ostrich approach).
D) All of the above.

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