Wednesday, October 21, 2015
The Mother of All Traffic Jams
Something there is that doesn’t love a traffic jam. And because of that near-universal feeling, we have become virtual prisoners in our house most weekday mornings.
The way from our home to the outside world leads through the village of Aptos, California. We drive three-tenths of a mile down our road to Trout Gulch Road, then three-tenths of a mile down Trout Gulch to its intersection with Soquel Drive. Soquel is one of the main arterial roads in the county. Trout Gulch ends there, but a left turn takes us toward the state highway leading to Watsonville; a right turn takes us to the highway leading to Santa Cruz — those being the two major urban centers.
Most mornings, the 0.6 miles to Soquel Drive would be a 2-4 minute drive for us, but in the past month and a half it’s turned into a nightmare. One day last week, it took 19 minutes to get the last three-tenths of a mile. Yesterday, it took 12.
Blame the Students
The local community college, Cabrillo, is about two miles down Soquel Drive from us, in the direction of Santa Cruz. Many of the students come from Watsonville. For those who drive, the fastest way is to take the state highway exit on the Santa Cruz side of Aptos Village, turn left, and go the last mile to Cabrillo.
Because the state highway is heavily congested during rush hour, there are always some people who try to beat the congestion by getting off the highway at the exit on the Watsonville side of Aptos Village and taking Soquel Drive three miles to the community college. Bad idea.
Driving that arterial adds three-quarters of a mile to the trip, and the additional length is broken up by five traffic lights and one stop sign (Soquel and Trout Gulch). Even with light traffic, it would usually be faster to stay on the highway and drive a shorter distance and go through only two traffic lights to get to the same place.
And with all the people getting off the freeway early, traffic is anything but light. In fact, Soquel Drive has become two miles of gridlock. That, in turn, backs up Trout Gulch Road and creates a situation where there are 50-100 cars queued up on each flank of a T intersection at a four-way stop sign.
Something Has Changed
In years past, we would have the sort of traffic jam I’ve described for maybe the first three weeks of the community college school year. By then, most people figured out that there was no point in taking the arterial, and traffic returned to normal, with queues of 7-8 cars each way during rush hour at the Soquel-Trout Gulch intersection.
We’re now in the ninth week of the school year, and the gridlock has shown no signs of abating. What’s different? The only thing I can think of — and a recent news story lent credence to the idea — is that the severe drop in gasoline prices has led more people, and in particular the college students, to drive alone, rather than carpooling or taking the bus.
If that’s indeed the case, and if the situation doesn’t let up soon, I might find myself in the position of rooting for higher gas prices. I never thought that would happen, but the morning traffic jam is beginning to turn me into the oil companies’ best friend.