This past week, everywhere I went, people were freaking out over the announcement of the highway (and bridge) closures planned during the papal visit next month.
The other day, I was in a hair salon when a middle-aged lady getting her hair styled blurted out loud, “I hate the Pope!” We all swiveled around in our chairs, with shocked looks on our faces, to see who would say such a nasty remark. The culprit, realizing everyone was aghast, immediately began backpedaling. “Of course I don’t really hate the Pope, per se,” she said, almost sheepishly. “But I really do hate that his visit is going to make the traffic around here an even worse nightmare than it already is.”
I don’t think she’s the only one living in fear of the impending congestion. As excited and thrilled as I am about the Pope’s visit, I felt her pain. Traffic in this area is horrendous and seems to be getting more horrendous with every passing day. I have heard nothing but person after person saying they are going to watch the highlights of the Pope’s visit at home on their TVs because they seriously could not begin to navigate the crowds, the congestion and the predicted traffic nightmare.
Just last month I was reading a Philly Mag article that said WalletHub found that Philly is the third-worst U.S. city for driving, based on factors such as a vehicle’s operating costs, traffic, weather, and risk of theft, among other criteria. The ranking compared the 100 biggest cities in the U.S. (based on population), of which Philly is the fifth-largest overall, with around 1.5 million residents. The study also reported that U.S. drivers are on the road about 200 hours each year, not including traffic, which accounts for another 40 hours. Put in terms of working hours (40 hours a week), the study said, that sum equals a six-week vacation. Pretty disheartening, right?
Those of us in Delaware County don’t need an official study to tell us traffic is murder around here. We enjoy living in this “convenient” area, surrounded by highways and byways that lead us to Philly, Wilmington, the Jersey, Delaware and Maryland beaches, NYC, the Poconos and other wonderful places in a matter of a few minutes or a few hours tops. We can get to all those places in no time flat— unless we hit traffic, which of course is usually the case.
Rush hour jams getting to work and then back home again seem to be starting earlier and ending later with each passing year. Everywhere we go, we need to play the guessing game so we don’t sit for an extra hour on I-95 or the Blue Route. Should we risk it and take I-95, or is there a Phillies game or a concert or a circus or an Eagles home game? There are traffic back-ups going over the Walt Whitman every Friday and Sunday night in the summer due to the multitude of travelers heading to and from the shore. The Delaware shore points cause the same tie-ups for anyone heading south. And possibly the worst is anyone who has to travel the road on I-676 from I-95 to I-76 for work or otherwise. They must seriously spend more time in their car than on the job. No wonder we talk about our TV and radio traffic reporters as if they are our friends. We honestly are interested in what they have to say each day.
Longtime Delco residents know all the hotspots to avoid in town. If they don’t know the backroads, the smart ones quickly learn them. During wicked traffic times, most of us stay away from Baltimore Pike in Springfield and Media, Routes 1 and 252, Route 322, Lansdowne Avenue, West Chester Pike…the list goes on. If you don’t get to these roads before 6:30 am or again before 3 pm on any given weekday, you are cooked.
TRIP, a transportation research group backed by advocates for highway improvements, also studied the traffic in this area, and reported the worst spots where drivers lose hours and waste gas. Here are the spots in Delaware County listed in their results- again, no real surprise:
I-95 from Stewart Avenue to the Delaware state line/parts of the I-476 interchange with I-95 in Delaware County: Drivers lose 50 hours and 21 gallons of gas annually due to congestion; 94,000 to 132,000 daily drivers;
I-476 from U.S. Route 30 to Baltimore Pike in Delaware County: Drivers lose 42 hours and 18 gallons of gas annually due to congestion; 94,000 to 100,000 daily drivers;
U.S. Route 202 from U.S. 322 to Pennsylvania Route 491 in Chester and Delaware counties: Drivers lose 42 hours and 18 gallons of gas annually due to congestion; 52,000 daily drivers; and
U.S. Route 322 from U.S. 1 to I-95 in Delaware County: Drivers lose 38 hours and 16 gallons of gas annually due to congestion; 22,000 to 34,000 daily drivers.
Lucky are those who have Real Traffic built into their GPS, so they can be rerouted to the back roads when the going gets tough. The trouble is, mostly everyone in Delco, also knows those alternative routes so they are backed up too. Traffic jams cause extra woes for people like me who cut everything to the exact minute time-wise. This all works out well and good in a perfect world. However, as soon as traffic enters the picture being late becomes inevitable.
I have built my car into a mini sanctuary, a little home away from home. I figure, we spend so much time there, we may as well make it comfy and inviting. I have pillows and blankets for my passengers’ comfort, changes of clothes for spills or whatnot, snacks, a case of water (which stays nice and cold from November to April), a case full of make-up, tissues, paper towels, hand sanitizer, umbrella, canvas grocery bags, phone chargers, change of shoes, magazines, a few books and many more items to make the long length of time I stay in my car more homey and enjoyable. Why not keep all the conveniences of home in there—after all, we sometimes spend enough time in our vehicles to call them our second homes.
There really isn’t anything we can do about traffic. It’s out of our control (God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change). Last year when I visited a few western states, I realized the reason they have no traffic problems is because there is mostly nothing but open space there. I swore afterwards I would never get fed up or complain by our traffic again. If I want to live in an area where there’s plenty to do and see, I have to just accept the side effect. It’s why the population is so dense—we all like living in an area where there’s so much to do and see.
So, with that in mind, l listen to my radio and try to grin and bear the jams that make me chronically late. There’s no sense to not just make the best of the situation. My daughter is learning a language on a CD when she’s trapped in her car. My son and others I know listen to talk radio or books on tape or return phone calls. I even have one friend who listens to famous speakers while she drives. As for myself, I usually spend the quiet time just thinking. In the past few weeks, I’ve thought long and hard about how I am going to navigate the traffic jams and the severe congestion predicted for this September because unlike the lady in the hair salon, I love Pope Francis and, more extreme traffic or not, I can’t wait for his visit here!
Readers can e-mail Peg DeGrassa at firstname.lastname@example.org or write her c/o DCNN, 1914 Parker Ave., Holmes, PA 19043.