Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Favorite Drives

This post has turned out to be long and maybe boring. TOO BAD. My blog :)

I am enjoying a rare night on the road in York, PA. York is a small city with heaps of charm and broad appeal- reminiscent of Old New Castle, DE or even a scaled down, low key Rittenhouse Square (Philadelphia) Lots of walk ups with brick fronts, colonial colors, wrought iron window boxes and architectural detail. Market Street has extra wide sidewalks with shady trees and cafes. Walking around today I said, "WHY don't I live here?"

The drive up from the Eastern Shore was unexpectedly pleasant. I've added I-83 from Baltimore to York on my list of all time enjoyable drives.

There are certain roads that just are pleasant. I used to think that those pleasant feelings were due to intangibles- and sometimes they are- good company, good times, good weather- but other times what we think are intangible are actually "designable" things like ROW width, shade, driver expectancy, etc.

Here is a list of some of my favorite drives and why they appeal. Some may surprise you!

I-83 From Baltimore to York
After the drag of the Baltimore Loop, suddenly I was propelled onto a seemingly normal interstate. But something was different- wide, tree packed median, trees along the ROW. Surprisingly rural and rolling terrain on either side. No traffic this AM during rush hour, and destination YORK, my new favorite small city to visit a favorite client.

PA 73 from Center Point, West to Zern's Market and Beyond
Many people hate this stretch of road for its traffic lights, relatively low speed limit, twists, turns and small towns. I like it. It goes through some typical SE PA small towns, it usually has a ton of shade. The ROW is rather narrow, which makes it more comfortable for a country drive and less pressure to speed. Plus, Zern's was a favorite spot to go when I was a kid, and as a teenager we could get those gas station attendant shirts at the flea market with names like "Earl" and "Jeb" on the name-oval. Further west it goes through some of the most special colonial farmland and the quaint antique-ville of Boyertown.

PA73 from Center Point, East to the "Bent Elbow"
Heading the other way creates similar looks of question from many friends- they never thought about it. Same relatively narrow ROW. More mature trees, no passing allowed and little pressure to be passed. Along with its paralell, Morris Road, a drive alive with foliage in October.

PA/DE 896 from Lancaster to Newark
Once a year, we do a seminar in Lancaster. The drive back to Newark is probably my favorite drive of all time. The first time I did it, I couldn't stop marveling at the fabulous gardens that the farmhouses had. I kept thinking, "WOW. You could LIVE out of that garden. It is huge and not a weed to be seen" Then, I saw a family of Amish children run through the field and I remembered where I was and realized that they do LIVE out of that garden. The ROW is VERY narrow, the road has twists, hills and turns, but they are predictable, well marked and not "blind". While some folks get flustered with the buggy traffic, I find it refreshing. There is little hustle and bustle between Lancaster and Newark, so what's the hurry?

Almost Any Edmonton City Street
Edmonton Streets are almost universally lined with tall and aged elm trees. Alberta has the world's largest collection of standing elms which so far have avoided dutch elm disease (though there are other threats). The canopy is VERY high giving a feeling of intense space, yet cozy canopy. Edmonton streets run on a near perfect grid and are extremely cartesian. The street and avenues are almost all named by number and that number is built into the address. So 10160 - 112 Street would be 112 Street near 101 Ave. You never need directions, just an address and a square mind. (Though sometimes the River gets in the way)

Garden State Parkway from AC Expressway South
Say what you will about New Jersey and the Jersey Shore, but unless you drive the GSP on a Sunday night or the forth of July, it is a dream road. All of the shore towns are on the barrier island, so you have to turn off the GSP and go over the bridge, which means you don't cut through the middle of any towns. One side is Route 9 with its rural-ish residental, the Cape May Zoo, etc. On the other side is the wide marsh. There are trees in the median, great signagle, predictable exits and easy access to Route 9 for a paralell alternative.

Trans Canada Highway 16 from Edmonton to Jasper and on to Vancouver via 5
Great little crazy fun country towns like Entwhistle, Edson, Hinton... Avoiding the bighorns in the road in Jasper with its icy crystal blue waters and grey-white mountains. Little roadside commercial makes for a pleasant drive. On the BC side, there are pull-off rest stops that I have napped at often and always felt safe, signs that politely remind you to "Please get gas, or else you will run out".

Highway 50 from Annapolis to Ocean City, MD and 404 to Georgetown, DE
The route that the Baltimore/DC crowd takes to the beach is much more pleasant than the drive PA yankees take to the same beaches. Where Route 1 below Milford is awful, 404 and 50 are really kinda nice. Maybe it is the sales tax in MD. 404 is only 2 lanes most places but the roadside commerical is minimal. Perhaps due to zoning, perhaps just no demand. I can't be sure on the MD side. The signage is great and SHA signs politely remind you to turn your lights on while the rumble strips in the center keep you between the ditches. Route 50 from Salisbury to Ocean City has a broad forested median, and semi limited access. Commerical areas along its banks usually have secondary road access as opposed to direct Route 50 access. It goes through the same type of landscape as most of the awful chunks of Route 1. Route 1 could have been this nice, maybe not as wide, but just as nice.


Defford Road, Worcester, PA- The street I grew up on
GIANT ROW with large lanes and rolled curb make for a motor speedway subdivision. Throw in unpruned pinoaks as boulevard trees with their absolute lack of welcoming canopy (even triangular shape) and you have the nightmare that is the 1980's tract development. It feels like Dover Speedway to me when I drive through with the pinoaks as the banking walls.

DE Route 1 from Milford to Ocean City, MD and its paralell 113 from Milford to Berlin, MD
These roads were two lane roads that were dualized. The original road had small time highway commercial. The dualization brought more highway commerical. The plan backfired. They are now talking about a bypass for this original bypass. It is a nightmare of traffic lights, "right-in right-out" entrances and poor zoning/master planning all around.

Both roads divide towns with unwalkable, dangerous 4-6 lanes of traffic. Route 1 is a hazard to nesting sea turtles and bike riding tourists.

There is not a tree in sight. I have a Toyota Echo with no airconditioning. Just thinking about Route 1 makes me sweat. I absolutely avoid the area at all costs. If I do go, I chart an elborate route to ensure I never have to make a left turn, which usually also means a U-Turn. Even with light traffic it makes me tense, but more often it just makes me sad since it they had done it well (along the lines of Route 50) or even the GSP it could be quite magical.

Route 309 from Montgomeryville PA north to Allentown... Route 309 Ambler to Philadelphia. DUDE, all of Route 309
Five point intersections with no clear pattern, extremly narrow lanes, jersey barriers, stop-merging, hard and fast exits, disappearing lanes, battered pavement, unexpected traffic lights and BREAKNECK speed. No wonder everyone is angry on 309.

Roosevelt Boulevard, Philadelphia
I cannot even express how scary this road is. Four to six "express" lanes on the inside. Two one way (?) lanes on the local "outside". Exits out of nowhere. Crazy drivers. Confusing lights, unclear one ways... I am lucky I ever went to visit my grandmother without a major accident. I think it has trees, but I was always so busy looking for a sign and cutting someone off.

Road around City Hall, Philadelphia
The purgatory of roads. Keep going around, you might figure out what lane you need to be in. And don't worry- the pedestrians won't cross against the light.

Vine Street Expressway
Every single time- I wind up in Jersey. I always miss my exit. I have almost merged into people about 4000 times. Then, after killing myself to move 3 lanes in 100 yards, I miss my exit and wind up in Jersey. Which isn't so bad, because the Ben Franklin is one of my favorite bridges.