Where traffic and staying out of it is a good thing

by John Pixley


“And we’re back.” The trip was over. The weekend getaway was at an end. No doubt about it.

For one thing, it was definitely time to put on the air conditioner in the van. It was suddenly hot. Seriously hot. Now that we were down off the mountain—a short half-hour drive—the temperature had risen at least 10 degrees. More like 20 degrees.

It was amazing how it got so hot so fast. Unfortunately, it most likely wouldn’t be so fast before it cooled down. The heat would no doubt linger, and probably get worse, for a while in September and maybe into October. No, we don’t put away our white shoes after Labor Day here in sunny So Cal. (Do we ever put away our white shoes here—if we wear white shoes nowadays?)

The heat was only one thing, though. After miles of smooth riding, there was suddenly a line of cars stopped at a red light. And then there was the freeway, where there was the inevitable traffic (although it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been). Yes, there was traffic, of course—and all the more to be expected at the end of a long weekend—another sure sign that the weekend was coming to a close.

But wait. This wasn’t Los Angeles. This was east of Claremont, in San Bernardino. Same thing, more or less, at least when it comes to traffic.

Traffic. Again. We are always talking about traffic, how bad the traffic is and how we dread the traffic going to and from LA. I’m always writing about traffic. Here I am writing about traffic. Again.

It turns out there’s a good reason for this. Or a bad reason. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times last month, it’s not just our imagination. A recent report by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute and the traffic data company Inrix says that the greater LA area—I think that includes us as well as maybe San Bernardino—has the second-worst traffic in the nation.

What this means, according to the report, is that southern California drivers spent 80 hours sitting in traffic in 2014. This is second only to Washington, DC, where the researchers say commuters clocked 82 hours of delays during the year.

This is surely a validation, but for some this difference, coming to 10 minutes per month, is actually a disappointment. “The last time I told people in LA they weren’t No. 1, they got upset,” said Jim Bak, an Inrix traffic analyst who characterized the reaction as “If we have to suffer, we at least want to know that we suffer the most.”

Okay, so we come in second, but being stuck in traffic for 80 hours in a year is pretty bad, pretty terrible.  And although we come in second, the severity of rush-hour delays here is worse than in any other area, according to the study. Trips during peak commuting periods here took 43 percent longer than during non-peak hours, meaning that an hour-long drive at noon takes roughly an hour and a half at 6 p.m.

What’s more, Mr. Bak said, all this traffic costs us an average of $1,711 a year in lost wages and productivity.  Eighty hours and $1,711. That’s an awful lot of waste in a year and big-time proof that traffic is horrible here, not just something we imagine—second place or not.

Good thing, then, that we’re in Claremont. Indeed, all this traffic gives us all the more reason to enjoy Claremont. These days, there is more and more reason to stick around Claremont and avoid the freeway traffic, at least when we don’t have to take the freeway to work.  This alone is something to enjoy.

There’s much more, though, to enjoy than avoiding traffic. Claremont is no longer a sleepy little town where “the sidewalks roll up at 6,” where things go dead once the colleges let out for the summer. It is no longer necessary to go somewhere else for something to do.

Not with the numerous restaurants and cafes that are in the Village, at least, especially since the expansion.  There are many evenings when I pass through the Village and hear live music and groups of people talking and laughing The Laemmle Cinema has been a big part of this.

But it isn’t just all the restaurants and unique shops that, more than ever, we now have. There is also the live music on Friday evenings, the Art Walk now on Saturday evenings once a month and the Farmers’ Market on Sundays, as well as the special events like the Wine Walk and the Village Venture, which is coming up soon. I thought it was too bad that the Wednesday evening Street Fair was discontinued, but Claremont and its merchants have taken some good steps in making this a place to be.

In fact, in recent years, it not only looks like more and more people are staying close to home and avoiding traffic, it looks like more and more people are braving traffic to be here.

It is not just the Village that has picked up the pace, but summer in Claremont is quite different. The July Fourth festivities aren’t the only game in town during the hot, quiet months. With the weekly and monthly events in the Village, like the live music on Friday evenings (not to mention all the live music at restaurants), added into the mix of concerts and movies in the parks, there is a tidy schedule of goings-on. Don’t forget—there’s also the Shakespeare plays now put on in July by the Ophelia’s Jump theater company at the lovely outdoor Greek Theatre on the Pomona College campus.

And then, speaking of campuses, there are the colleges. With the students back and classes well underway now that September is half over, there now is a whole smorgasbord of activities and presentations. 

There are now concerts, like the tribute to Ruth Crawford Seeger, the American modernist composer and advocate for folk music, next Saturday and the “Chamber Music Extraganza” next Sunday, both presented by the Pomona College Music Department at Little Bridges. This evening, the Mariachi Divas are playing on the Bowling Green at Scripps College, part of the Levitt on the Lawn series. There is also a steady line-up of lectures, including but certainly not only at the Athenaeum at CMC. Films are also being shown and discussed, and, later, there will be plays and dance concerts.

There was a time, at least for me, when this collegiate activity, like the gradually cooling weather, was a relief after the boring, long, hot Claremont summer.  Now, it is one more thing going on here, yet another reason to stick around and not have to get stuck in traffic. It’s nice being in a place to go to and not having to get there.



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