A Bird’s Eye View of Population Density

I’ve lived in the same house for nearly two decades, so you would guess my patterns would be firmly set. Most of my driving trips point northward. As the crow flies, downtown is northwest and campus is northeast. But I’m not a crow.

I’ve recently begun detouring a block south to get north. A traffic light makes turning left easier and often quicker when traffic is heaviest.

It’s no big deal that I’m now heading south to get north, unless I think about it. If I do, I can sit at a stoplight and fume that I’m being inconvenienced by the rest of you. It’s nothing personal, but there are now so many more of you.

I can get myself even more worked up if I forget to think about it.

If muscle memory kicks in and I head north to get north, I may find myself unable to turn left across traffic for an inhumane amount of time — probably 20 to 30 seconds. That eternal half-minute offers plenty of time for berating myself for forgetting the better approach.

Then I turn into the parking lot of my nearest grocery store with no expectation that the parking spots nearest the door will be vacant. I shop here most of the time because the check-out lines have become too long at another nearby grocer. A third option sees me less frequently because navigating its parking lot feels like playing a video game without an invincibility shield.

On Saturdays, I used to wander through the Farmers Market, assessing every booth before making any purchases. Now I buy something if it looks good, because I may not find my way back to the same spot quickly enough.

I usually park in the public garage on 8th Avenue, because it gives me an easy gauge for what’s coming. If I find a parking spot quickly on one of the lower floors, there’s probably rain in the forecast and vendors will be chatty. If I have to drive all the way to the roof to find a space, there’s a party below me that’s already begun.

When downtown was desolate, I would park on the street. But now that’s a riskier proposition than turning left against traffic without a stoplight’s assistance. I can park in a garage, or I can drive in frustrating loops around downtown — and then park in a garage.

My point is this. I’m adapting to the changing conditions around me. You are too.

It’s a game of inches — literally. As the roads get fuller, drivers pack themselves more densely. Following distances reduce. We tap our brakes more frequently. We hurry more when parallel parking, understanding that more drivers are waiting while we complete our maneuver.

As populations increase, a honk of a horn is less likely a friend who recognizes me and more likely a stranger reminding me to stay in my lane. (Both are wishing me well, by the way.)

Do I really wish many of you would leave? No, not really. I know there are times when all of you wish many of us would disappear. But if either of us got our wish, Carol Burnett wouldn’t be coming to town.

Booking agents, national merchants and local entrepreneurs use numbers to determine whether they can succeed here. More successes for them translate into more choices for us. We now have more movie screens, more restaurant options, more job opportunities, more transportation choices, more, more, more.

A decade ago, I had to drive to Portland to board an affordable flight to just about anywhere. Now the Eugene airport can meet all my needs — thanks to all the rest of you.

Exactly how many 20-second delays add up to the four hours I save by not driving to and from PDX? I come up with 720 minor inconveniences to equal just that single large convenience. And that’s leaving Carol Burnett out of it.

So I adapt. I drive a block south to get north. I tap my brakes more frequently in traffic, making room for drivers attempting to turn left against traffic.

Crows have it good, but we have it better.


Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs