Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Vegas Travelogue, Part 2

I mentioned in the first part of my travelogue that there's no good way to get to Vegas. Today, I'll go over what happens when you take the bad way to Vegas- private automobile on I-15. On the way out there, I picked up my wife at the school where she works (in Magnolia Centre) at 3:00. By the time we hit the CA-91, traffic was already stop-and-go. From Central Ave. to the split with CA-30 (approximately 14 miles and an agonizing half an hour), we were lucky to crawl along at a speed which caused our speedometer to register. After that point, we were largely in the clear until entering Las Vegas itself, where local traffic at the I-15/NV-215 interchange caused some slowing. Of course, the entire drive was characterized by that unique combination of interminable boredom and constant vigilance that marks any long-distance road trip, and it was 4 and a half hours in which I could have been making valuable progress on course readings but was instead staring at asphalt ribbons across salt flats.

I should note that this sort of traffic pattern is particularly problematic for the DesertXPress HSR plan- attentive readers will note that the first phase of the project is planned to terminate in lovely Victorville, CA, notably past the point where we encountered traffic. Angelenos that have to work until 5pm will find the drive across the LA basin to I-15 even more problematic than us IE types, especially since we left at 3pm. Unless DesertXPress is connected to some form of transit infrastructure, it will offer only minimal traffic relief for many. (I can envision a future in which the HSR is fed by both a giant parking garage and San Joaquin-style bus connections to points around the LA metro region, until the Victorville-Palmdale-LAUS connection is constructed. That might work out.)

On the way home, traffic was something other than smooth sailing. From just past the urbanized area of Las Vegas all the way to Primm (the state line), traffic was at a virtual stand-still. It took us over two hours to traverse 25 miles- I quite literally could have biked it faster. Worst of all, there was no discernible reason for the congestion- the road was littered with "Road Work" signs, but we never saw a single road worker, let alone anything that could be described as "working." There was also no evidence of a traffic collision- if such a crash occurred, it did so long before we went through. Because of the sheer volume of traffic on the route, and the lack of alternate routes, traffic conditions remained poor throughout the drive, and there would be random stoppages every so often along the way. The California Agricultural Inspection checkpoint- normally a 5 minute nuisance- took more than half an hour to clear. What was a 4:30 drive on the way out was nearly 8 hours on the return trip. That sort of unpredictability is an inherent problem of an automobile system that is over capacity, and one that desperately screams for alternatives. We need some other way to get out to Vegas. We need to create a class of people who no longer have to care about traffic congestion- and for that, we need an exclusive transitway of some kind, either busway or rail. And we need it yesterday.

In the next instalment, I'll cover my experiences with transit in Las Vegas itself.

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