24 March 2010

[pdx] The Ross Island Bridge Rules

Whenever anyone I know despairs of the breakdown in civility in society, and I do myself sometimes too, I recommend they proceed to the west end of the Ross Island Bridge during evening rush hours, when downtowners and people who work on the west side but live east of the Willamette River filter through the ramps from Naito Parkway north- and south-bound, Southwest Arthur Street just east of Southwest 1st, or Southwest Kelly Avenue to find liberation in the working class areas of Southeast Portland.

It becomes quite a crush. But amid the welter of overheating cars, beggars on the corners, and such, an unexpected blossom is to be found … common civility.

It's almost as though everyone there understands that – for a few minutes, anyway, – they're all in the same boat.

Here's how it works: if you're coming down onto the eastbound bridge entry from Naito northbound, despite the sweeping appearance of that ramp, it's quite a slow thing, you can't cruise it like a freeway. And, at the point where that ramp joins the bridge traffic eastbound, you have to stop and wait for the main flow of the traffic – which is coming from Naito southbound and Arthur Street – to break for you.

But, here's the amazing thing – during rush hour, that's what they actually do. And here you are, in Portland rush-hour traffic, it's tough and tight, bumper to bumper – and suddenly, a person on the lane you're trying to get in on slows down enough to let you in. And you're out of there, and they're out of there, and it seems to move okay despite the fact that the facility is almost crowded to capacity.

It helps, I suppose, that the eastbound bridge traffic at the entry isn't going very fast either.

And the miracle is that nobody seems to mind. There's no honking, no angry swearing. There's just this gestalt understanding that if everyone gives a little everyone gets ahead in the long run. Traffic's slow, but common courtesy will get us all through.

There is common courtesy in the world.

I guess it just happens to be where you find it.

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