Learning to live with the 'usual slow spots'

About nine months into a regular commuting routine, and I've become familiar with what the radio traffic reporters call the "usual slow spots."

The main one for me, as it is for many folks reading this, is on I-95 from roughly White Marsh (but sometimes from as far up as Route 152) down to the 895 split. Daily I'll take in the traffic reports from the various stations programmed into the buttons on my car radio. Invariably, if the traffic scene in the greater Baltimore area is pretty fluid, the report is basic and includes some bad news for me and my brother and sister I-95 commuters: things are pretty clear except around the "usual slow spots."

If it's a bad morning, or evening, or if it's raining, the report will include a long list of incidents, accidents and unusual slow spots caused by things like construction or the odd deer in the roadway. On these days, there will be no mention of my usual slow spot on I-95, but I rest assured my commute is going to be a good deal longer. In other words, it's bad if it makes the traffic report; it's atrocious if things are bad everywhere else.

Unlike many of my new commuter colleagues, I've only been subjected to drive time woes for a relatively short time. In my life, I've been blessed with the ability to work within a short distance of home. This goes back to a desire to get away from the commute after five years of driving to college every day and four years before that of driving (or being driven) to high school.

Being back in the daily road race to work caused me to ponder a harsh reality: Not much has changed on the commuting front since the 1980s. Sure, there's satellite radio for some folks, but I'm content with free radio. State-of-the-art music technology in cars has graduated to compact discs from the old cassette tape players.

But convenience stores remain crowded in the morning, and the food they have on hand remains filling, though rarely satisfying.

And, of course, there are the usual slow spots. Way back when, there were half a dozen of them along various sections of the Baltimore Beltway, but it seems like these days the beltway can be counted on to be slow all around just about every day. (The one exception to this would be the section of the beltway around the Key Bridge, which when I was a kid was always crowded, but has long since cleared out thanks to the demise of Beth Steel and the old shipyards.)

Another thing that's been consistent since the commuting days of my youth all those years ago is you've always been able to count on a construction project on I-95 designed to get the commuter traffic jams under control. There was the addition of what we used to call the new tunnel (Fort McHenry), the addition of half a dozen or so extra lanes here and there, and lately this major reconfiguration of the interchange of I-95 and the beltway at Rosedale-Golden Ring.

Nothing has helped, and I fear nothing will.

Commuting 20 or more miles one way to work each day has become too much of an American standard for anything to change. I can look out the windows of the building where I work and see places where people make their homes, some of them pretty darn nice, though admittedly some aren't so great. But I don't live there, and I suspect a fair number of those folks commute to work a good distance away, maybe in Washington, D.C., or maybe even up at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

The only real solution to the issue is one of people living, like I did for so many years, near where they work. Problem is, when you call a place home, you want to stay there, even when the situation of employment changes.

Possibly this is why so many of us are willing to tolerate the usual slow spots.

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