Storrow gets ’em every time

Now, I’m not going to talk about the single accident that doubled my commute today. I’m not going to mention it, even though it took what seemed like forever to get into the Storrow Drive tunnel. I’m not going to let it distract me, even though it left me with that unsatisfied feeling when the accident is cleared and all the police cars leave literally 10 seconds before I drove by, precluding me from getting out all the tensed up rubbernecking that had built up.

No, today I want to talk about trucks.

Stupid trucks.

Actually, if we want to anthropomorphize the trucks, they probably have a headache at this point; the stupidity should not necessarily be assigned to the truck itself, rather to the driver.
For those not fortunate enough to live near the Hub of the Universe, you may not be aware of our local roadways. We have a lovely river – the Charles (much cleaner now) that wends it’s way through the dense city, separating the Hub of Boston from our fair city, Cambridge. Alongside the river – one might say encroaching upon it – run two arterial roadways.

On the Cambridge side, we have Memorial Drive. This 4 lane, surface road features picturesque views of the river, of the yards of Harvard, and of the many boathouses alongside. It also features stop and go traffic, since it intersects with local roadways every few blocks with stoplights that inevitably have someone attempting to turn left across oncoming traffic.

On the Boston side, we have Storrow Drive. This 4 lane road is divided with ancient metal barriers, and alternates between limited access surface road, and sunken underpasses. While the posted speed limit is 40mph, average speeds are highway speeds, which makes for quite exciting driving with all the twists, turns, and quick elevation changes. None of which is terribly important to the story, with the exception of the sunken underpasses.

Storrow Drive was designed after WWII as a parkway, meant for pleasure vehicles. The underpasses – below each of the major cross streets – feature very low clearance. This fact is advertised with overhead signage at each entrance to the roadway. Normal-height steel beams cross the roadway, holding giant yellow and black “LOW CLEARANCE – TURN BACK NOW, LEST YE HOLDUP TRAFFIC ALL DAMN MORNING” signs at the approximate height of the underpasses.

A bonus feature remaining on most signs (depending on their age) is a wide swath of short chains hanging down another few inches. This serves to make a really loud banging sign against the top of your over height vehicle as you pass underneath. So, for example, if a truck driver attempted to enter Storrow Drive – let’s say a blind truck driver, since they clearly didn’t see any of the signs. So our blind truck driver is driving down an entrance “ramp” onto Storrow Drive, and they suddenly hear a loud BANGCLATTERCLATTERCLATTER from above their heads. Don’t you think they’d notice?

Apparently not, since this morning featured one eastbound truck with a headache sitting – peacefully, for the next several hours of rush hour I imagine – in one of the few pull off areas on Storrow, just past the Doubletree. It also featured a westbound truck stuck near the Hatch Shell, presumably with it’s own headache. Sigh. When will people ever learn?

Happy Evacuation Day!

Since I’m something of a local history buff I like to commemorate local holidays, even if they’re only celebrated in Suffolk county.

Wikipedia has a reasonable description of Evacuation Day, but I’ve really come to like the historic details and deeper research that J.L. Bell provides in the excellent Boston 1775 history and gossip blog.

I’m never really sure how much of the modern celebration of Evacuation Day is because of it’s history, as opposed to it being co-located with St. Patrick’s day, since Boston was the first city to have a St. Patrick’s Day Parade, at least on this side of the pond. It often feels like it’s still a local holiday (all Commonwealth government offices get it off) mostly so that locals can attend the parades.

Wow! There’s actually an entire domain name devoted to the celebrations in 2007, although don’t bother clicking through, since they never really updated the site or provide much information about the Boston aspects, more focusing on the cannon’s journey thereto. But you do have to check out the Irish Stormtroopers.

“So that’s what the speed limit feels like.”

I was in a car driving westbound on Storrow Drive the other weekend day, and something just wasn’t quite right. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong – it wasn’t anything obvious. Then someone came out with this post’s title and it all made sense.
We were, indeed, stuck behind some grandparents in a Buick driving exactly under the speed limit of Storrow Drive. It was very strange driving along that all-too familiar stretch of roadway and actually be able to watch all the pedestrians in their leisurely walks along the river.
For those who aren’t local, Storrow Drive is basically a narrow, two late, limited access, divider-in-the-middle local road that’s masquerading as a highway, that wends and winds it’s way along the Charles River into the very heart of Boston. And when I say wends and winds, I mean frequently, sharply, and in three dimensions. Memorial Drive does exactly the same thing on the Cambridge side of the river, except it has stoplights. New Yorkers familiar with Saw Mill River Parkway will know what I mean. As a friend once said, Storrow on weekends is like the world’s biggest driving video game – except you only get one quarter.
As most locals know, the bell curve average speed on Storrow Drive & Soldiers Field Road is significantly higher than the posted limit – at least during non-rush hours. Sure, there’s the occasional driver who slows down for the tricky curve, or hits the sunken spot of pavement, and slows down for a bit. But we were stuck at the limit for quite a while as everyone else switched lanes and passed us at a more, um, normal speed. It was an interesting perspective on the usual rate of life for that part of Boston.


Here’s a quiz to test how much you actually do pay attention: what is the posted speed limit on Storrow? No fair peeking, just answer as soon as you read this post.

“Screwy Curve Ahead”

Text on a road sign this morning on Storrow Drive, stunning me with MA Highway’s truth-in-advertising. Of course, it actually said “Survey Crew Ahead”, which is much less interesting. There’s gotta be a name for that (swapping mid-word letters between words).

The middle of the road seems to be gone

One fun thing – for me, anyway – with having a fractal commute is that I get to see varied scenery each day. Not only plenty of variety with the side streets I tend to take in my quest to avoid the big stoplights, but also different streets as I experiment with shortest time or with fractality attempts with my route.
Somehow in the past week I’ve wandered into what seems like half of the road construction in eastern MA. Some days I’ve passed by a half-dozen different road crews digging up the road – almost one per mile of commute. And they’re not small ones – no, no, big sections or strips of the road are coming up.
The funny thing is, in most of the cases they’re digging up the middle of the road – either in long narrow trenches for one new pipe, or in big chunks for who knows what. This means traffic can still flow – but usually pretty slowly. In a couple of cases, there are several local businesses that must definitely be feeling the effect of reduced traffic and no parking on their block.
Is this the usual spring/early summer workload to replace underroad infrastructure, and my seasonal memory has just forgotten it over the year? Or am I extra special lucky-guy to have this many road crews right in the middle of the road this month?

Hmmmm. Thinking about the title of my post, that could equally refer to the situation in US politics these days. Sigh.

My fractal commute: prelude

This is just a preview of a much longer posting that I’ve meant to write for a while, but haven’t gotten it rolling just yet.  Get it – rolling – about a commuting post?

I’ve come to realize that the path taken in my semi-regular commute is starting to look like a fractal.  I drive to work – yes, in Boston there is public transport, but it’s awkwardly suited for my home and office – and since rush hour is quite long, I use a wide variety of tricks to improve my time.

One of my annoyances is stoplights.  I don’t mind them most of the time, and firmly believe they are a useful at keeping society safer and more civilized.  I just don’t like waiting at one for more than a single cycle, which often happens during rush hour.  So I optimize my commute to avoid stoplights.

Now just avoiding stoplights isn’t going to turn a commute – even a Boston one, where some roads were laid down by cows – into a fractal.  But it’s a start, and a number of other factors, including maximum speed and interestingness, really do push my commute into a number of strange directions.

So this posting is partly to whet your appetite, but mostly to prompt me to write up a proper essay on the topic, including pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back …, oh, sorry got carried away.  But I will have a few jaggedy graphics to show, and true map geeks can see if they can backsolve where I work by overlaying on the local road grid.  (Note: all roads are paved; 17in wheels don’t like rocks.)