Crosstown Traffic

I'm not sure how we ended up on the Washington D.C. beltway. When called to the nation's capital a few months ago, our thoughts hadn't been on traffic. But there we were, fighting for our lives as we spun down that 10-lane monster of a highway.

Paranoia came easily on that highly trafficked beltway. Danger loomed beyond every yellow line. In a peculiar sort of Darwinism, the best driver and slickest engine survived.

A sea of cars was our first view off the entry ramp. The traffic was clearly jammed, but it was jammed and flowing. The mass moved awkwardly, bumper to bumper, at a steady 60 mph. Primarily a master of country roads and mountain passes, I struggled with the wheel of the rental car. The family's fate in my hands, I winced as a BMW shrieked past a Dodge and then slipped into our lane inches shy of our bumper. Shortly afterward my grip tightened as a semi with a double trailer made the same move but this time nearly on top of us. Only after laying on the horn and almost swerving into another accident did I notice that the truck carried hazardous materials.

Strange thoughts also came easily on the beltway, but I had a perfectly rational one in mind. It was high time to get the hell out of there and hustle back to Durango. Two days, two flights and a harrowing, late night New Mexico drive later, we rolled back into town as it slept. Cars lay dormant, congestion was absent, and we casually streamed past green lights down Main and toward home.

I pulled the keys out of the ignition for what I hoped would be a long time. I was ready to get back to commuting on the bike, and in the next three days, I had meditative spins in and out of town. The only traffic I came across was pedestrians on the Animas River Trail.

However, on that fourth day, the beltway now a distant memory, I climbed back behind the wheel and motored south into Durango. I hit the confused mass right next to the good, old "Free Rooms Just Kidding" sign, and I had a heavy case of D.C. d`E9j`E0 vu. The traffic was bumper to bumper and piddling along at 15 to 20 mph. The entire trip down north Main was tiresome but bearable. When I hit the bottleneck of downtown, the situation worsened.

Parked cars, many of them sporting local plates, lined the streets. Meanwhile, a parade of traffic worked downtown in both directions. Small stacks of cars waited at intersections for an opportunity to sneak in, and the left lane was often occupied by the endless blink of a turn signal waiting for a lucky break.

At one point, a Four Runner jammed on the accelerator and broke into the stream. The move precipitated a Subaru's horn and a heavy-handed look. Next, a Ford Expedition pushed its way into the line-up. Having waited nearly a minute for an opening, the vexed driver squealed his tires before driving a block to a parking space.

I was beginning to feel a little cheated.

I'll admit that there's some serious sex appeal to propelling a ton of metal on four rubber wheels down that endless black strip. This is particularly true if the metal and rubber are from Europe and not branded with a Volkswagen symbol. Inside our cars, we enjoy power and speed, and it's easy to get blinded. It's easy to point the finger at the other vehicles and blame them for the gridlock. It's easy to forget that our own travels also have impacts.

Incrementally, we're seeing more traffic in Durango, hearing more horns and visiting more frustration on each other every year. Whether on East Second, Main Avenue or Highway 3, there is a growing car problem in Durango. Each of us who drives shoulders part of the blame.

Durango holds a different appeal for each of us. I would venture to say that none of us are here for congested streets and an urban vibe. It's one of those things we were supposed to leave behind.

Will Sands




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