urban rhythms

I spend most of my time on the road during the week. I commute about one hour to work in the morning. I drive truck all day throughout the city and surrounding communities. I commute home in the evening, an ordeal that usually lasts from one to two hours, and sometimes more under horrendous conditions.

Photo by Glen Alan Woods

I am beginning to learn the rhythm of Portland’s roads, both the highways and the surface streets. There is a definite pattern which follows certain time periods and days. Friday morning is normally lightly travelled. Friday evening is a nightmare. 3 pm on most days signals the beginning of bottle-neck traffic on I-5 south near the Rose Quarter, which is certainly related to the corresponding gridlock eastbound on I-84 from the I-5 offramp. An hour earlier, traffic is typically navigable without too much trouble.

Urban rhythms trace the contours of how people live their lives, transposing those patterns onto the roadways via which they commute throughout the city. For example, I have a theory about why Friday morning is light. Four day work weeks for a large segment of the population may be responsible for deflating the volume of vehicles on the roads. That theory, however, is challenged by the corresponding difficulty of the evening’s commute each Friday.

Photo by Glen Alan Woods

Even so, I am becoming sensitive to the rhythms, learning to detect their ebb and flow. If there is fog, rain, or wintery conditions, I know the commute will turn treacherous in a hurry. When that season arrives in earnest I will have to decide whether to brave dangerous roads or opt for mass transit via rail and bus. And even as I familiarize myself with the daily road conditions and traffic patterns in Portland, I do so with an awareness that my own driving habits indelibly influence the broader traffic flow of vehicles in close proximity.

It seems to me that this point has relevance not only for our driving habits, but also our personal influence, intentional or not, on the people around us.

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