Two things drove me crazy during today's drive from Salem to pick up my wife at the Portland International Airport:
(1) Listening to right-wing talk show host Lars Larson, because his station, KXL, has good traffic alerts, and (2) getting stuck for a long time in a backup on I-205 whose seeming cause says a lot about the need for more mass transportation.
This afternoon Larson didn't blather on about the blessedness of cars, and the hellishness of bicycles, light rail, high speed trains, and other alternatives to getting around in automobiles. But I've often heard him do this.
Which my wife and I strongly disagree with.
We often fantasize about a light rail line running from Salem to Portland along the I-5 corridor. It'd be great to be able to get to Portland, including the airport, without negotiating the increasingly irritating metro area traffic.
Before leaving our house, I fired up INRIX Traffic, a recent iPhone app purchase. It's remarkably accurate in showing how speedily traffic is moving on major highways. Things looked pleasantly green until I scrolled the map northward after passing through Woodburn.
Then I saw that I-205, our usual route to the airport, was orange (slow) for quite a few miles. It being about 4 pm, I wasn't eager to head on I-5 toward the Portland city center and I-84, especially since this route was showing up orange'y as well.
So I stuck with I-205. Which indeed was 5-10 mph slow almost to Oregon City, stop and go traffic all the way from I-5. I figured there had to be signs of an accident ahead. But there wasn't.
What I did come upon were two separate cars, maybe a quarter of a mile apart, parked on the left shoulder. Both were safely off the freeway. Both had people sitting in them (one car was accompanied by several other cars, with a number of people working to change a tire, apparently).
No accident. No horrible weather. Just some non-drivable cars on the shoulder of a freeway.
And this, so far as I could tell, was the cause of a massive traffic backup -- since immediately after I passed the stopped cars, traffic sped along normally. I've noticed this phenomenon many times before: an entire freeway backing up when cars slow because of something that isn't an obstruction, but an object of interest/concern.
Yet Lars Larson and his Republican comrades in Congress want to strip mass transportation funding from appropriation bills. They want the United States to be even more reliant on driving around in cars which come to a standstill when the flimsiest reason pops up.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world invests in bullet trains. We sit in traffic jams produced by inconsequential causes. I'm boggled by how Tea Party types in Clackamas County want to keep light rail and other mass transportation from being built in their area.
I wish one of those right-wingers had been sitting next to me while I was stuck in the I-205 traffic jam today. I had plenty of time to try to convince him/her that cars are the past, not the future; the problem, not the solution.