Several years ago, The Reformer ran an editorial about "improvements" to Route 9. The commentator said, "If you build it, they will come." S/he was obviously being playful with the film Field of Dreams, but was also voicing the truism that the bigger and better the Road gets, the more traffic it will see. Well, as we all know, not much was built, but they have come anyway — in droves.
Yesterday, headed to Brattleboro, I got captured by a pod of large trucks. Four in fact: two in front of me (the first with a tail of ten cars), and two behind me. It was like a religious procession — we crawled down the hill. By the time I got to the flats of West B., I had seen 14 multi-axel trucks in the two lanes of travel. Don't we have a problem here?
In a landmark book entitled the Orientation of Animals, two biologists explained how clumping occurs in animals moving from A to B. It also works for cars and trucks quite nicely. To get clumping, all that is required is two different velocities. So imagine Wilmington or the hilly part of Rt. 9, with trucks moving at 50 mph and then having to slow to a fraction of that. If they arrive at the slow point at a constant rate, they will pile up in the slow section, until, miles later, they spread out again as they accelerate. Both pill bugs and tractor-trailers do this.
I've whined and moaned about Route 9 for years, and more than once in this space. Put simply, the road is now a major New England artery, frequented by herds of large trucks, car-piloted wide loads, and other large, lumbering vehicles. I encounter about seven of them by coming or going to Brattleboro. There is never a "down" time, never a window with a semblance of an open road, never a time when I can't hear jake breaking as the trucks ready for the descent to the valley. Further, this winter we had at least three of the things jack knife, closing the road for hours.
"Oh, Boohoo!" That's about what a State transportation heavy said to me a year ago; and at our Town Meeting this year, our rep. told me that truck traffic is down. Really? Ask the good people who live with this road in their front yards. Is there a similar sequence of three or so blocks anywhere in Brattleboro with as many houses for sale as in West B.? And the potholes?
Is there anything to do? Absolutely. The natural habitat of a semi is the interstate system. Spend some quality time on some of the major interstate corridors (e.g., I 95 or I 88) if you don't believe me. It's gross out there, but better there than their choking and trashing the modest, two-lane roads here.
Some trucks have to use Rt. 9 — the Shaw's truck comes to mind. It's got to get to Wilmington. But most of these lumbering giants are through traffic, headed to Portsmouth, Manchester, Albany, or even further. Why can't they use the Mass Pike and I 91? Does it really matter if a toothbrush or ballpoint pen costs 3 more cents in Bangor or Toledo?
Once behind one (or several) of these trucks, that's where you live until a scarce passing zone appears. Then, one by one, coming out of their numbed trances, drivers jockey to pass the behemoths. The real danger for a motorcyclist here is to get caught in the blind spot of one of these reenergized drivers.
In the mid- and late 1970s I rode a bicycle fairly peacefully between Marlboro and Brattleboro. It was especially doable midday, during the middle of the week. Now, on a different bike, one capable of 120 mph, I continue traveling between the two towns about as fast as I did then.
Bob Engel lives in Marlboro with tractor-trailers, his motorcycles, wife, and cat. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.