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Commuter Puzzle

Monday, Oct. 03, 2005 1:37 PM

While the route I drive on my daily commute is known as one of the most stressful in the San Francisco Bay Area, there are times where I don't understand why traffic slows to a crawl.

Over the past few months, this has been demonstrated at the First Street onramp to the lower deck of the Bay Bridge. The lane was narrowed slightly as demolition/refit work began (long overdue and bogged down in paperwork since the Loma Prieta quake in 1989). But the majority of drivers slow down and take it at a virtual crawl, even though the turn has not changed significantly.

And within the last week, they also made a change just before the Carquinez Bridge, changing the flow of traffic from one bridge to an older bridge, so additional retrofit work could be performed. It takes three lanes of traffic, moves it to three lanes across the bridge, and into the toll plaza. Yet, again - traffic has slowed to a crawl. There was a delay of 20 minutes last Monday, and by Friday, it was up to 40 minutes, backing traffic up as far as San Pablo.

Why? What is so confusing about a slight curve in the road? CalTrans warned people of the change, but they also advised folks to expect delays.

But forty minutes?

Are we so caught up in our GPS units, phone conversations (with or without Bluetooth), and kiddie shows on the inboard DVD player that we can't adapt to changes in driving conditions?

Or is it that our lives are so stress-filled, that we've crammed ourselves into uncomfortable little boxes that we're now not only afraid of peeking outside the box, but becoming incapable of doing so?

I prefer the above than to think it's some kind of decline in overall pattern/puzzle-solving ability, as evinced by the people who see signs advising 'LEFT LANE CLOSED AHEAD,' but change into that lane. And, sure enough, a quarter-mile down the road, they're all in a bother because no one is letting them back into the lane they should have been in all along.

Should CalTrans have told drivers to 'expect delays'? Rather than cause people to be on their toes and allow extra travel time, does it create a case of 'I am expecting a problem, therefore there will be a problem?' Thus, when confronted by a simple change of route, are people are primed to view it as a problem, and their responses are somehow different?

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