The roads have tested positive for traffic
Parked moving trucks and vacated furniture lining the curbs were the first indications that university students were making their back to campus after the coronavirus pandemic sent them home in March. But since classes were postponed until the last day of August and many will remain online, I thought I had more time to enjoy the proverbial calm before the storm.
I was wrong.
Cars parked in parallel along the roads near my office should have alerted me. Wasn’t it just days ago that an abandoned scooter stood alone in the wealth of available spaces curbside?
Shirtless young males playing sports (in a group, unmasked!) in the grass nearby might have alerted me as well. But it was the line of bumper-to-bumper traffic in front of me going 30 in a 35 mile-per-hour zone that initially spoiled my sense of calm.
1. Line leaders
As I slowly rounded a curve behind the train of cars, I saw the reason. A helmet-less student on a scooter had maxed out her speed at a roaring 30 miles per hour. As we snaked behind her on the two-lane, winding road to campus, we were bound by the scooter’s maximum speed.
“Why are these contraptions even legal on roadways?” I said aloud to myself as I drove — too slowly — to work. The city had been largely absent of scooters — largely absent of traffic, actually — since mid-March, when the university and government sent students and workers home.
That evening I drove home via the most direct route from my office — as I’d dared to do daily with ease since I (alone, it seemed) returned to work. Before COVID caused the mass exodus of students and office-bound workers, I’d taken less popular routes to avoid some of the bottlenecks. My goal was to merge onto the congested highway that took me home slightly ahead of the rest of the 5 o’clock drivers.
As I drove that evening, I knew my days on the direct route were limited by the return to normal. The university was about to open, and the public schools with it. Traffic was certainly heavier. But my second forceful realization that the students were back was because I felt the urge to tap my horn when the traffic light turned green.
The driver in front of me was on her phone, at first unaware that the light had changed, then attempting to drive while she continued to look down instead of up. She drove slowly and lurched almost drunkenly across the center line. I didn’t want to take any chances. Seeing the right lane had a gap, I flipped on my blinker, moved over, and passed beside her as she veered over the dotted line again.
2. Digital distractions
“Don’t you know it’s illegal to text while you drive?” I fumed at the driver. She wasn’t paying attention to me. Maybe she was watching a cat video.
She wasn’t the only driver who found her phone activity too important to interrupt and give full attention to the road.
It’s not that the return of students mean the return of the only people on the planet who play with their phones while they drive. It’s that the return of students means we have more traffic. More traffic means longer waits at traffic lights — and why not check our phones while we wait?
Eventually, I neared the last major traffic hazard before my neighborhood. A year prior, our county started road work at the start of September — even though it would jeopardize the interstate exit and entrance ramps and one of the busiest roads in town just in time for school and football season.
Of course, much of the construction has occurred in the dead of night until just recently, when the three lanes of west-bound traffic were shifted into jagged diagonals. Yesterday, construction workers started closing lanes during the day. Brilliant timing!
A commute home that had taken 15-20 minutes took almost an hour.
3. As if on queue, construction!
This morning I drove to work a full half hour earlier than the day before. Fewer cars were on the road, and I was able to take in more information as I drove. As I neared the section of highway where two east-bound lanes reduced to one (plus a right-turn-only lane at a congested intersection), I noticed a new digital sign blinking a message in all capitals:
ROAD WORK BEGINS SEPT 8
Yes. That third event clinched it. Surely, the students are back — a perfect time to strangle the main roads to campus with construction.
The roads are testing positive for traffic, and life is returning to normal. That’s what we all wanted, right?