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Grinnell traffic (Summer 2018)

Topics/tags: Rants, local, rambly

One of the nice things about living in small-city Iowa is the traffic. Or, more precisely, the lack of traffic. When you need to drive, it’s generally easy to get from here to there. And, except at the College, there’s usually nearby parking. My family jokes about the occasional rush minute [1].

Unfortunately, things have changed a lot this summer. A lot of the problem has to do with the confluence of different things. But it also seems that things could have been planned a bit better.

It started with the construction of the new Humanities and Social Science Complex [2]. That construction is clearly disrupting traffic on Eighth and sometimes on Park. Large trucks get in the way. Construction workers walk in the road. And folks sometimes stop to talk.

Then the city added construction on 10th, west of Park Street. If I understand correctly, they are digging it up and putting in new sewer pipe. That’s been going on since early May, if I recall correctly [3]. At first, they had the intersection of Park and 10th open. That made it reasonable to get to the physical education complex. Then they closed that intersection. Now, one has to detour down Eighth to get there, and, well, Eighth has the wonder of husk construction.

Immediately after Grinnell’s commencement, the city started a huge construction project at the intersection of 6th and West, closing off that intersection. A few days later, they also closed the intersection of 5th and west.

If you haven’t lived in Grinnell, you might not know that 6th, and 8th the primary east-west roads in town. 10th is the other big east-west road on the east side of town and 11th is on the west side of town [4]. 6th is particularly important because it’s also US 6 [5]. Note that every one of those three roads is impacted by one of these three construction issues.

A few weeks ago, I had a wonderful experience with that issue when I was trying to get from the high school (8th avenue on the west side of town) to Darby (10th avenue on the east side of town; immediately east of Park Street) at about 8:00 a.m. The traditional way to do that is to take 11th on the west side of town and 10th on the east side of town. But 10th on the east side of town is closed. Another alternative is to take 6th. [6]. But, well, 6th and West is closed. So I stayed on Eighth. I made it all the way to Park and 8th [7]. But the construction workers had decided to close 8th down. I couldn’t go up to 10th because the intersection of Park and 10th was closed. So I turned right to head south on Park [8]. I wasn’t thrilled because I was about to be late for a meeting. And then, to make matters worse, one of the portable cranes was ahead of me on Park, driving slowly. But I know not to pass large construction vehicles, particularly when it’s not clear whether they are going to turn left or right. So we drove down Park at something like five miles per hour. When we reached 7th, the crane turned left. At about the same time, the person behind me got so fed up with the speed that he decided to try to pass me on the left. Fortunately, there wasn’t an accident. And I didn’t flip off the person trying to pass me [9].

As the story suggests, getting from point A to point B in Grinnell is not nearly as easy as it used to be.

All of these various construction events make life more difficult in other ways, too. The husk is a large building. It needs lots of workers. The workers are not local; most seem to drive from the Des Moines area. They need places to park. They park on city streets, as is their right. But, well, that clogs the city streets. For the first few months of construction, the clogged Broad Street. But then the City of Grinnell decided that Broad needed to be clear for fire trucks, police cars, and the like. So they instituted a parking ban on Broad, or at least some portions of Broad that were popular with the construction workers. The construction workers moved west to Main street. In case you didn’t know, I live on Main street. So our block, which runs between 6th and 7th, has a lot of cars parked on it starting at about 7:15 a.m. most days. I accept that I can’t park in front of my home on some days.

However, as I suggested, although the individual projects cause problems, their confluence causes more problems. What’s the confluence in this case? Remember how I said that West and 6th is closed? Well, West is the street immediately west of Main. Here’s what happens. Cars come south on West, which is a major north-south route in this part of Iowa [10]. They pass 8th and West. Then they realize that 6th and West is closed. So they need to turn. But 7th only runs east of West. So they turn left onto 7th and then right onto Main. And that’s where lots of construction cars are parked. So not only is my street parked up, it’s full of traffic. I’m amazed that there haven’t been more accidents.

Where do those cars go after passing our house? They continue south on Main. They cross 6th. They pass by McNally’s and the College’s big open lot and then stop at the stop sign on 5th. Hopefully, they realize that they can’t turn right on 5th. So they continue straight. They pass by the variety of stores and such downtown. They reach 4th and another stop sign. If they’d been expecting highway speeds [11], they are probably feeling a bit frustrated. They turn right on 4th. Of course, there’s a light at 4th and West. And, for some reason, there’s a bit of oncoming traffic. So only a few cars an turn left and continue south on West. That area seems to be blocked up much of the day.

Which leads us to our final story. Yesterday, I left work at about 5 p.m. to go grocery shopping. Right before I got to 4th avenue, an east-west train started through town [12]. So that clogged things even more. I needed to get to Fareway. So I could head west a bit on 3rd and on Commercial, finally ending up facing West at Commercial and Main, where I waited. Finally, the train passed. It looked like I was going to have to wait a bit to turn left onto Main street. So I made a really stupid decision. I turned right instead. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll realize that I was turning toward perhaps the worst intersection in town right now, Main and 4th. I realized what I’d done and cursed. It’s okay, I told myself, it will clear. But, well, it was even worse than normal. No one seemed to be moving. I waited a few minutes with no progress. So my inner Boston Driver took over. I pulled a U -urn in the middle of Main so that I could progress south. And, from there on, it was clear sailing to Fareway. But, wow, was that worse than normal, either normal train traffic or normal current Grinnell construction traffic.

I am so ready for this summer to be over.

I suppose if I were sensible, I’d switch to a bike.

[1] I’m sure other families joke about that too. It’s like the alternate pronunciation of Target that everyone thinks only their family uses.

[2] Humanities and Social Science Complex is generally abbreviated HSSC. Some of us pronounce that as husk.

[3] A friend recently made a comment on the order of In some major cities overseas, it feels like they can put up a skyscraper in a month. How long will a few blocks take to repave?

[4] I suppose 4th is another important east-west road. But it seems to have a stop sign every block on the east side of town, so I avoid it.

[5] I believe US 6 used to be the longest road in the US. It runs from the tip of the cape to somewhere in sunny CA.

[6] 8th has a lot of stop signs. So it’s often faster to go to 6th, drive down 6th, and then come back to 8th at your destination. My kids ran experiments at different times of day to be sure.

[7] Hmmm … I seem to be alternating between calling it Eighth and 8th. I’m not concerned about the inconsistency. I hope you are not either. They are the same road.

[8] Here’s the path I was being forced to take: South two blocks on Park. Wait for a long light. East three blocks on 6th. North four blocks on East. West a block and a half on 10th. Here’s the path I would normally have taken: North two blocks on Park. East a block and a half on 10th.

[9] I did throw my hands in the air in frustration.

[10] Iowa Highway 146, to be precise.

[11] Well, two-lane highway speeds.

[12] We have east-west tracks that cross town near 2nd. We have north-south tracks the run through the middle of the College. Creating a town at what he predicted would be the intersection of two rail lines was one of J.B. Grinnell’s best decisions.

Version 1.0 of 2018-06-29.