Tunnel Vision: Driving Resolutions

December 30th, 2009 by Kim Lenz

Even though I was on Christmas break, I drove the 42 miles from my house to Old Dominion University last week. I was attending a Monarchs basketball game against the University of North Carolina Charlotte.

I don’t think I came within 100 meters of a car the entire trip. No one was on the roads. I enjoyed the drive immensely, but it made me frustrated about my daily commute retroactively.

That made a comment from WHRO’s Sondra Woodward (who does traffic reports during her morning broadcasts) make perfect sense: “You’ll want to work every holiday. You won’t mind working on the weekend. Just to avoid rush hour.” Resolution for 2010? More shift work.

That’s one of many things I’ve learned during my year on the roads as a commuting drone, that I hope to put into practice this year. Here are a few other nuggets I’ve gleaned….

An underrated traffic-stopper? The sun. Obviously, when it rains anything goes on our roads, as I’ve complained about occasionally in this blog. However, the sun can cause just as many delays, especially at this time of year during the morning drive. There’s one stretch of Interstate 64 in Hampton where you come around a corner and stare right into the sun. Traffic always backs up, and it’s tough to see brake lights. Resolution for 2010? Sunglasses in the car.

Unexpected rush hours and clear driving times. Naturally, this observation goes out the window if some idiot breaks down in the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel or if it’s raining. But in the morning, I’ve occasionally left later than I wanted (OK, more than occasionally) and have found traffic significantly lighter after 7:30 a.m. Most drivers have reached work, so the backup at the HRBT is often half what it is at 7 a.m. For me, it’s meant the difference between being late and being LATE. It’s OK, though. I just say they closed the Tunnel.

On the other hand, afternoon rush hour seemingly starts at 1 p.m. Whenever I slip out of work early to “avoid the rush” I end up stuck in worse traffic than I do after 5. Bosses everywhere probably don’t need to know this information, but I find my commute sails when I stay until 5:30 p.m. Resolution for 2010? Leave later, stay later.

Knowing the escape routes and knowing when (and more importantly when NOT) to take them. If you live in the Triangle, you know that an accident at Fort Eustis means get to Routes 143 or 60 in Williamsburg. If you don’t get over immediately, you’re better off toughing it out on I-64, because by the time you get off at Lee Hall and get over to one of the provisional routes, you won’t have saved any time.

In Norfolk, there’s a similar escape hatch. If I-64 westbound is really slow, you can scoot down Granby Avenue and pop back onto the Interstate at 4th View Avenue. One day, that led to my single most satisfying moment of a year of commuting. An accident between Terminal Boulevard (where I normally enter I-64) and 4th View meant that for 15 minutes, traffic was stopped completely. I was the first motorist to take the alternate route, and pulled onto a completely empty Interstate. I felt like doing donuts. But if you’re the 1,000th person to think of taking the other way, the re-entry to I-64 can bottleneck so severely that you end up making your commute twice as long. Resolution for 2010? Get that decision-making process down to a science.

Remembering that my best commuting memories are the unexpected ones. If you’re going to be completely stopped at the HRBT, hope that you’re lucky enough to get stranded on the bridge itself. Twice, I’ve been completely stopped on the bridge, once at sunrise, once at sunset. You rarely get a chance to enjoy how spectacularly scenic it actually is. Both times, I got out of my car and marveled at the sight. (Note, I was up north and didn’t have to endure the day they closed the westbound tunnel for seven hours. I don’t imagine that would have been as fun.)

I need to keep telling myself to enjoy the unexpected moments, like the woman who saw the family of ducks toddling across I-64. When I feel like punching the roof of my car, or do punch the roof of my car, I need to tell myself to relax and do my best to enjoy the drive.

Resolution for 2010? Try not to get too worked up. I’ll get there eventually.

Do you have your own resolutions for a safe, sane 2009 commute? Let Brendan know. Write him at brendan@wydaily.com.

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