A regular feature of The Westside Express featuring writers who commute to work
I consider myself a “professional commuter.” In fact, it’s safe to say I have commuted most of my adult life in cities across America.
Commuting in California is definitely a challenge. California infrastructure is not designed for the volume of automobiles on its roads. Couple that with how commuting life has changed, and you have a dangerous recipe on your hands.
Twenty-five years ago, my wife and I decided on the city Los Banos to call home and raise our family. The population of Los Banos 25 years ago was approximately 22,000. Many of Los Banos residents commuted in the western direction towards the Bay Area, San Jose and Salinas.
At that time, I commuted to several cities, as far south as Carmel and as far north as San Jose. I believe the commute has changed dramatically in a span of 25 years.
Pacheco Pass, also known as Highway 152, is one of the more dangerous roads in America. In the early days of commuting this path, we were known as part of “a commuting family.”
Travel speeds were approximately 70-75 miles per hour. Keeping a safe travel distance between vehicles was important based on anything that could happen.
Yes, safety was paramount, and respect for travel on this road was at the top of our minds. It was not uncommon to see a stranded motorist along with four or five vehicles stopped. Motorists would offer assistance, a ride, bottled water and even offered to place calls on their behalf.
Fast forward to today, and the “Commuting Family” can be best described as “Commuting Individuals.”
Los Banos now has a population of 43,000. I completely understand everything must evolve, and nothing stays the same. However, for one’s safety one must be aware of the reality traveling on 152 Pacheco Pass. Current traveling speeds are now 80-85 miles per hour. That textbook safety space between vehicles is now seen as an opportunity to gain 1-2 car lengths and is considered a win.
There are many theories as to what changed. Is it the sanctity of our vehicles’ interior? Or is it the speed and power of today’s transportation that give a false sense of what’s possible?
High risk maneuvers, less than car length distances between cars, and poor judgment all lead to the common occurrence of multi-car pileups today with regularity.
As a professional commuter I, too, had to evolve, yet hold on to many core driving principles that keep me safe. The goal is to travel from A to B safely to our work in our profession, and again from B to A back home to our family.
A few basics keep me safe. Stay out of the passing lane if not passing. Go with the flow but maintain a safe distance. Allow plenty of time to resist taking chances. Maintain your composure, since the lack of judgment of others is evident daily.
The good news is Los Banos, with the wonders of the Central Valley, is a great place to raise a family. To my fellow commuters I say, “In this case, the reward of a safe commute far outweighs any potential risk of one’s safety.”