Papal Visit 2, Traffic Nightmare Boogaloo
My alarm went off at 4:30 this morning so that I could immediately turn on the local news to watch the impending I-64 closure traffic nightmare unfold. That idea lasted for about 3 seconds, but when the alarm went off again at 7:30, I quickly turned on the news fully expecting to see a traffic backup from Ballas to Columbia, and riot police stationed at Brentwood Square. The current headline at the Post‘s website says it all. Everything went fine, although the water main break at McKnight and Clayton did not help.
I mustn’t be the only person with flashbacks to the Pope’s visit to St. Louis in 1999. Then, as now, the predicted traffic nightmares never materialized. Back then it was the Post-Dispatch that bore much of the blame for hyping the papal traffic fears (if I recall, it was something like hours-long traffic jams into Illinois), although this time I have found them to be very reasonable on the I-64 debate, with an exception here or there.
It is probably too early to read much into today’s success. Many people may still be on vacation, kids are not back in school, and plenty off people probably (and wisely) planned to change their schedules at least today of all days. But perhaps we can read something into the way things went today. I recently read Malcolm Gladwell’s terrific book "The Tipping Point," which talks about how little things, when done right, can have a huge impact. What if a number of little things were done right in the planning for this project, by MoDOT, other governments, the contractors, and individual commuters, so that in the end this project will not be the predicted traffic nightmare we all feared? What if just enough commuters switch to just enough alternate routes that they can handle the increased traffic without horrible jams? And what if just enough people change their work schedules, or use mass transit, or carpool, that there are enough fewer cars on the road during the project so we can all get by (literally and figuratively)?
Nobody denies the major changes we will all have to deal with over the next two years, but today was a very exciting beginning for this very important project.