Amblin' Alameda: It's just physics

Amblin' Alameda: It's just physics

Morton Chalfy

We had a medical appointment in San Francisco in the morning and another appointment here in Alameda in the afternoon. "We'll leave ourselves at least an hour and a half to get back," we thought. That would be plenty.

Heck, an hour should give us more than enough time for a 40-minute drive even with slow traffic on the bridge. We had done this before. But this time, fate intervened in a big way.

Fate was in the scheduling - unbeknownst to us, there was only one technician on duty for our San Francisco appointment that day when there are usually two - and fate was in the number of emergencies the technician was called upon to deal with during the period when our appointment was scheduled. We waited patiently - what else can you do? - while first one hour of our safety-net crawled by and then another.

We told the staff we would have to leave and reschedule in another five minutes and then, in a rush, both the technician and the doctor arrived and dealt with us.

Phew, we have an hour to get home, we thought, no problem. But there was a problem. We got on 101 North in five minutes and found ourselves at the end of an incredibly long line of cars inching their way across the bridge.

In such a fix one can only relax. There's no way off the bridge, no other way across the bay, no real sense in making oneself unhappier than circumstances make one. So we did what others do: mumble curses under our breath, repeat mantras of relaxation to ourselves and speculate on what major catastrophe had taken place to slow things down so.

Luckily, it was not a major catastrophe: It was a semi broken down at the exit to Treasure Island and some work being done on the right hand lane just after it. The problem was just physics. People naturally slowed down at the sight of the flashing lights of the trucks working to deal with the semi, even though they were not in the roadway, and then slowed again to merge around the traffic cones on the right. But physics demonstrates that the slowing of cars at the work site has repercussions for five miles up the road.

A slow down from 50 m.p.h. to 35 m.p.h. or so translated to bumper-to-bumper traffic moving at four and five miles per hour from the Cesar Chavez entrance to the highway to the end of the old bridge and beginning of the new one.

Forty minutes to cover that distance and then 15 from there home. Incredible, no? Isn't it strange that the innately human curiosity we all share, a curiosity that naturally has us look a tiny bit longer at whatever problem we encounter on the road, translates into a traffic jam that could easily give rise to road rage.

But then we arrived in Alameda and all was well. We were in time for our appointment. We were immediately relaxed just by virtue of the fact that we were on our home turf and physics can once more be our friend.

Let us be careful with our little Island home and take care not to repeat the mistakes of San Francisco. Our bridges and tunnels have limited capacity. Let's try not to outgrow them.


Submitted by Anya (not verified) on Tue, Aug 5, 2014

A day of adventure and challenges, still you have faith in physics.