For commuter, 38 minutes to drive 3.7 miles

But for Wyman Park woman already having bad morning, trip 'perfectly understandable'

February 12, 2010|By Tricia Bishop | Baltimore Sun reporter

It was already a stressful morning for Suzanne Cooke.

A German Shepherd had attacked her Chihuahua mix the night before, and then someone had the nerve to steal her parking spot while she made the emergency run to the vet -- a particularly heinous etiquette offense after back-to-back blizzards.

She dropped a note on the spot-swiper's minivan Friday morning and hopped into her own Honda Accord, giving life the chance to tax her further: Much of Maryland was finally returning to work post-storm, and some roads leading downtown from her Wyman Park home were barely passable. The commute was not looking good.

"I do have a degree of impatience," she said. "I'm not one to sit in traffic if I can avoid it."

And avoid it she will try, dodging the people trudging through the street like video game foils. It was 8:58 a.m., and her trip odometer read 618.4 miles. The challenge was on.

Forty-five minutes earlier, a Maryland map on the Web site traffic.com was dotted with more than a dozen yellow caution signs documenting danger zones throughout the state. There was an accident on Interstate 83 southbound at 28th Street, causing a major backup. A water main had broken in Laurel on Route 1 at Bowie Road. The Harbor Tunnel Thruway was "generally jammed." And a car was stuck in a snow bank in New Windsor, at the intersection of Nicodemus and Brick Church roads.

But Cooke was unafraid.

With classical music playing on the radio, she steers down Beech Avenue. Her destination: the city's South Street, where she plans to meet a prospective client. Cooke, a former Catholic schoolteacher, is now an account manager for employment agency Mary Kraft Staffing and HR Solutions.

She took a left onto W. 33rd Street and veered right onto Remington, where the road itself was actually visible and wide open.

"I never would have expected this!" Cooke exclaimed. "This is awesome."

A tenth of a mile later, at Wyman Park Drive, it was a little different. There was no road, only packed snow with icy pits that mimicked the worst potholes. There was only room for one lane of cars to pass, yet it was still being used as a two-way street, which meant cars had to alternate diving to the side to let other vehicles go by.

"Now I have to make an executive decision," for safety's sake, Cooke said, looking at the mess before her. She paused, a driver behind her honked a horn, and she went for it, the car bobbing and bouncing over the bumps.

As she crossed 31st, the road reappeared.

"Woohoo!" Cooke cried. "I feel like Dorothy. I found the Yellow Brick Road."

Without traffic, the trip would take about 8 minutes down I-83, but in the mornings, there's usually traffic on that stretch of highway. So Cooke sticks to the city surface roads. Her typical drive-time downtown, about four miles, takes 20 minutes if she makes most green lights.

She turned left on West 27th and right on North Howard, where two lanes were cleared. Two men shoveled out the Exxon station to the right as she breezed by. Soon, at 9:13 a.m., traffic was at a dead stop, several blocks north of North Avenue. The two lanes had merged into one.

Cooke considers bailing at 23rd, but worries aloud that taking a left there will rudely hold up everyone else behind her. Then, a plow takes the initiative, and she follows.

"The truck has inspired me," she said, making the left, then taking a right onto Maryland. She avoids St. Paul at all costs. Too slow.

" Maryland [Avenue]'s a good road," she said, before hitting the brakes to avoid walkers in the street.

"Here's another factor: people! You're down to one lane or half a lane, and now you have to be careful of these pedestrians," Cooke said, shaking her head.

It was 9:20 a.m., and the odometer read 620 even. Over the bridge, the road cleared again, snow piled high on the sides. A sport-utility vehicle with Alabama plates is in front of her.

"They're like, 'What have I gotten into?'" she said and chuckled.

After making a left onto Baltimore, Cooke gets a pleasant surprise. Though there is no street parking on Charles, a favorite spot, there is elsewhere.

"Look! Three lanes!" She beams behind sunglasses. Paying $1 for street parking is preferable to $15 in a garage. It's something of a life philosophy for her.

She slides by her destination to make a side trip up Calvert Street to drop off a Baltimore Sun reporter along for the ride. At 9:36 a.m., she pulls over. The trip odometer reads 622.1 miles.

"Overall," she proclaims, the drive "was fine."

It took 38 minutes to drive 3.7 miles. That's one mile every 10 minutes and 27 seconds; or 5.74 miles an hour.

"Really?" Cooke asks. "To me, that is perfectly understandable. The blizzard was only two days ago."

Meanwhile, Donnell Barnes rode the No. 40 bus Friday morning from Edmondson Village into downtown Baltimore, where he went shopping for meat at Lexington Market. Barnes, a 43-year-old construction worker who had the day off because of the weather, normally would take his Dodge Durango truck for that kind of errand.

"I usually drive," he said.

But he wasn't sure if parking spots near the market would be cleared of snow.

"I don't know how it is downtown," he said.

He also didn't want to give up his parking place on the street where he lives.

"I don't want to lose my spot," Barnes said. "I dug it out yesterday."

Baltimore Sun reporter Laura Vozzella contributed to this article.

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