We should have seen this coming when those strange digital construction signs started popping up along the Jones Falls Expressway a few weeks ago.
“Don’t tailgate!” they admonished. “Buckle your seatbelt!” they scolded. I think one of them even reminded us of the 40 miles per hour speed limit during rush hour, which is funny because I don’t think anyone could break the speed limit during most commutes to and from downtown these days.
When the announcement was made earlier this month that the city would be closing down one lane in each direction of the highway near the 29th Street exit, suddenly the formerly senseless signs began to have a higher purpose: To warn us suburbanites who rely on 83 that our working world was about to be rocked.
I’m writing this on the eve of the first big commute downtown, wondering just how bad traffic will be as the road narrows for approximately eight weeks while the city repairs some underground drainage pipes. Of course the fix is needed so we all stay safe and won’t plummet into a sinkhole, so I guess I can’t argue with that (other than to wonder if it’s really so bad that they couldn’t at least postpone the repairs until school is out, when traffic becomes much lighter).
But I am wondering how many families are finding themselves in the same jam. My husband works in Timonium, and our kids go to daycare in Sparks, so three-quarters of the family isn’t directly affected by the traffic upset. I work downtown however, and I rely on the highway to get to work. In turn, my family relies on me to get up first and to get everyone else up and out and on their way. My husband takes the kids to daycare, and I usually try to leave home at 7:30 a.m. for my drive to work. Now I figure I’m going to have to leave at least a half hour to 45 minutes earlier in order to make it to my office in Fells Point by 8:30 a.m. And that will affect everyone in my family. I’m going to be getting the kids up before dawn in order to get them dressed and fed before I have to hit the road.
Normally I try to look at my cruddy commute from the upside: It’s the only time when I’m all by myself—unless you count the thousands of people who drive down 83 beside me—with CDs and NPR to keep me company. But now, when I’m looking at possibly double the time on the road, that “me time” is starting to look a little bit more like solitary confinement.
None of the alternative routes being posed—Charles Street, York Road, Falls Road, etc—are good bets on a regular day, let alone days on end when everyone is looking for a secret passageway past the gridlock. The Light Rail was a tempting option in theory, until I looked at the schedules and realized it would take me an hour to get from Hunt Valley to Camden Yards, where I’d then have to catch two free Charm City Circulator buses to get near my office, all of which would take the same amount of time it probably will to sit in traffic in the relative comfort of my own car.
I know that in the grand scheme of things, this is another first-world problem to complain about. But there’s no getting around how not being able to get around is going to cut into my time with my family. The kids will be picked up a smidge later than usual, I’m sure. Dinner will get on the table later, which means bath time and bedtime will undoubtedly be pushed back, too.
How will your family deal with this temporary carmageddon and its impact on your day-to-day life? Anyone have any unexpectedly good alternate routes to share? Tell us in the comments.