Friday, April 02, 2010

Traffic watching, an excellent sport

When I lived in North Cambridge at the intersection of Rindge Avenue and Mass Ave, my bedroom in our Queen Anne mansion (well, it was a mansion to me) sat over the front porch and had a stained glass panel at the top. I built my bed high, so I could shove boxes under it and also lie in bed and watch people crash into each other in the intersection below. They were slow crashes so nobody ever got hurt - but there was a lot of broken glass and cussing in that wonderful Boston accent. How I miss that spectacle!

Extracts from
On Bronx Stoops, a Highway Traffic Entertains
By Sam Dolnick for the New York Times, April 1, 2010

Harriette Moore and her daughter, Robbin, are frequent spectators of the traffic.

Mrs. Moore's bedroom window, after all, does not frame just any traffic jam. Her home sits along the intersection of the Cross Bronx Expressway and the Bronx River Parkway — the single worst bottleneck in the country.

For the tens of thousands of commuters who pass through the tangled crossing each day, the drive is a grinding torture. But for many of those who live alongside the Cross Bronx, the slow-moving river of traffic provides not only a steady soundtrack, but also entertainment, consolation and even wisdom.

"I think the trucks up high with the lights all around them, they're very pretty," Mrs. Moore said, pointing to the headlamps glowing in the haze of the evening rush hour.

Few roads in America have histories as tortured as the Cross Bronx Expressway. The master builder Robert Moses gouged the highway through crowded neighborhoods, displacing tens of thousands of people and, critics say, helping set the stage for the arson and crime that ravaged the borough for a generation. Today, the Cross Bronx is among the busiest roads in New York City, and its problems are legion. Of the four worst bottlenecks in the United States identified by Inrix, a traffic research company, three of them were on this highway.

Mr. Ramirez, a retired police officer, smokes a cigar every afternoon as he walks his dog, Peanut, on a patch of grass overlooking the highway intersections.

"You think you're the only person on the planet, but you come here and see all the people," he said, gesturing with his cigar stub to a line of cars. "It clears my mind. I don't feel alone when I come here."

"If I'm having trouble with my wife," he added, "I come here and watch the traffic. I thought I had problems, but look at these poor people. They sit in this traffic every day. These people have it so bad compared to me."

A stocky man with a thin white beard, Mr. Ramirez has lived on this block for 20 years. As a young man, he drove a taxi across the city and along every highway, including the Cross Bronx. "So I know traffic," he said. "But now this is my entertainment. I just look at it."

He hates the pollution, but the view from the banks of the highway? "That's something that not everyone gets to see," he said. "You don't get bored. You always find something to look at."


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