Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"59th Street Bridge Song"

Actually its not the title of this song, its the first line that is resonating with me today.  "Slow down, you move too fast."  This is a little piece of advice a lot more of us should pay attention too.

Austin is a growing city.  The population (although I don't remember exactly what it is) is definitely getting bigger and bigger.  The best way to see evidence of that is to go on any road in town during rush hour (which is really more like slow hours!)  I was reading a local history of the roadways in Austin, when I came across the concern that Austin is approaching gridlock!!  Wow, what does that mean??  Will someday everyone be in their car and every single road will be at a standstill??  Will we all live the remainder of our lives stuck in the same place forever???

Austin didn't start out to be a big town.  In fact, like Topsy, "it just grew".  I can understand the appeal of this town.  After all its a kind of funky town.  Its really a textbook case of multiple personality.  There is, of course, the main campus of the University of Texas (which has a student population of about 30,000+!).  After graduation, lots and lots of those grads just stay here!  Then there is the Texas State Capital (the largest of all the state capitals),  with all those legislators, lobbyists, lawyers, aides, assistants, ad infinitum.  Some of them actually go home when the Legislature is not in session, but a lot of them don't!  Then there is the music which means oodles of bands, events, clubs, musicians, promoters, fans and hangers-on.  Some of them, I fear, are too entrenched in the Austin scene to ever leave it.  Then, of course, there are the businesses, lots and lots of businesses.  All of which have lots and lots of employees!

Okay, that just the basic folks.  I haven't mentioned the climate, the terrain, the views, the cost of living, etc., etc. that draws newbies every day.  Seems like everybody is coming to Austin....and they all have cars.

That same history of the roadways, outlined how progressive Austin has been in planning highway systems since the 1960s!  It also outlined how effective Austin has been in CANCELLING highway systems since the 1960s!  The powers that be plan, find the funds, get ready to build and the City Council or someone is convinced by environmentalists, zero-growth fanatics, and/or other assorted  nut cases that adding more roadways would be a death knell for the trees, the wildlife, the anti-pollutionists, and the natural beauty of Austin.  And the roads don't get built or if they do, they are reduced in size, configuration, and usefulness.  So here we are nearly 50 years later (!!!!) and gridlock is just around the corner.

I believe it, too.  Now that Daylight Savings Time has gone away for a few months, its pretty much completely dark by about 5:30 pm.  Thus, it is possible to see from the headlights and tailights, that rush hour traffic is made up of thousands of cars practically bumper to bumper!  All heading in different directions (there is no direction that is counter to traffic) at about the same time.  Its unbelievable. 

Unfortunately, that which makes Austin beautiful, makes it almost impossible to "get there  from here".  We have a river, with too few bridges, running from east to west and right through downtown.  There are multiple limestone "hills" making straightaways few and far between on the existing roads.  In fact there is only one (1) major east-west street to use to go completely across town.  One! 

All right, now I'm getting to the reason I am writing about this.  Its not just frustration, after all I lived in Chicago, so I know all about traffic!  Its because that one major east-west roadway is the only way to get to my house from either the south or the east....where most of the town is!  As you might expect as an important main street, it carries an enormous amount of traffic almost all the time.  Unfortunately it is not just a nice straight level road, no not at all.  It twists and winds and curves all over the place.  It used to be surrounded by GreenSpace (can't figure out when that designation went away). There are lots of trees but very few buildings that can be seen.  If that weren't bad enough, it has a long stretch of the road that goes straight up one of Austin's highest hills.  That stretch doesn't have any shoulder to speak of, it goes into a curve both on the bottom and the top, it is not a lighted road, and the kicker is that its a 60 mph speed limit. 

The stretch that I'm most concerned about is about 7 miles long. 
In the time we have lived here, there have been about 9 traffic fatalities along that 7 mile stretch of road, possibly more that I don't know about.  Nine deaths! 

I guess, because it still feels and looks a bit like a country road, drivers aren't responding like they do in urban areas.  When I'm driving at the speed limit or little less, people pass me like I'm standing still.  The red lights along the way seem to be a challenge to Austin drives to see how many cars can get through without actually stopping.  People turning insist on trying to beat the other cars coming right at them.  Its insane!  My whole family uses that road periodically.  I'm scared to death that one of them will get entangled with one of those idiotic scofflaws and become part of that staggering statistic! 

It was extremely disheartening to read in that history, that an additional section of actual freeway was planned and then cancelled back in the 1970s.  The additional freeway would have been the perfect alternative to using the road up the hill.  So instead we get more fatalities, but all those cute little beetles or bunnies, or whatever are safe!

Its probably unrealistic to hope that people "slow down, you move too fast".   That's ok, I think it will all be taken care of before too long anyway.  Gridlock is coming, remember? 


  1. Sounds a bit like Tucson. The traffic there can be horrific, especially when the snowbirds hit in the winter. But they consistently fight building any freeways.

    Still beats California, though.

  2. I wonder if any thought is being given to NATIONAL GRIDLOCK? Sometimes it almost feels like that. :-)


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