Paved With Good Intentions: A Freakonomics Contest

Here’s a chance to win everlasting national fame, and, more importantly, a coveted piece of Freakonomics schwag. What’s better, all you have to do for it is complain — which, if you’re like me, you do all the time anyway. Welcome to the Freakonomics “Paved With Good Intentions” contest, in which we pay loving tribute to the most abysmal roads in America.

Here’s how it works. Write a brief homage (no more than 150 words) to the worst stretch of road you know of. You have broad latitude in your definition of “worst.” It may be the most congested, the most poorly maintained, the ugliest, the most dangerous, the most confusing, the worst integrated with adjacent land uses, or any combination of the above. You may also devise a standard of your own. Tell us why your road is the best example of the worst in American transportation, toss in a bit of wit and literary flash, and post your entry in the comments section.

Bashing America’s blacktop may be fun, but an awesome responsibility like the presentation of Freakonomics schwag is no laughing matter. Hence we will employ only the highest ethical standards. I’ll have nothing to do with the judging; instead, I’m bringing in a couple of celebrity judges from the outstanding transportation program at UCLA’s crosstown rival, the University of Southern California. (PS: Don’t tell them we think so highly of them, we don’t want them getting big heads.) USC professor Genevieve Giuliano and her doctoral student Mohja Rhoads (with a name like Rhoads, how could she not be a judge) have kindly agreed to select the finalists; you the readers will vote on the winning entry.

The judges will be looking at the intelligence of the standards you choose, the extent to which your road matches up to them, and the style you bring to your description of your entry. Good luck, and enjoy your chance to vent about the stretch of asphalt that really “drives” you crazy.

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  1. Frankland says:

    North Ave near Milwaukee/Damen in Chicago: Pot holes + heavy traffic + Congestion + Bars/Resturaunts = Bumper-to-bumper traffic all around the clock

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  2. Thomas Clancy says:

    The Pulaski Skyway in Jersey City, NJ has the stupidest merge in the world. The driver has 20 feet to go from a dead stop to 60 mph, while cutting off traffic fleeing NYC, all while hovering 100 feet above the ground.

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  3. Matt says:

    The 405, in west Los Angeles, from LAX through Westwood is the worst.

    Of course, it’s the most congested. Worse, the carpool lane ends just before LAX. Meanwhile, the 110, merging with the 405 a few miles south, is hardly an alternative route, as by the time it crosses the 10, just a bit north of LAX, the distance between the 110 and the 405, especially given traffic on the 10, is substantial. Also, with congestion comes smog. LA’s coastline is beautiful. The mass of brown sky is worst near the mountains northeast of the city, but it all begins, and reasonable speeds end, with the 405.

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  4. Vicki says:

    The on-ramp to the Beltway near the Woodrow Wilson bridge headed out of Alexandria, VA into Maryland made me meditative. This scenic two-mile stretch of the on-ramp to I-495 has been a favorite place to while away an hour or two in my car pondering Buddhist philosophy as I watch a caterpillar crawling past me and 300 other cars stuck at the same intersection. Green light, red light. A fleeting chance to pass through three intersections. Another light change. Now the ethereal cacophony of honking drivers hoping to enter the on-ramp, into I-495 rush hour traffic at a rate of 5 miles per hour. Life is random and beautiful. Construction workers on this stretch of road also lean to zen Buddhism as they examine the weather, the car dealership across the street, and each other, slowing the rhythm of their months of work.

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  5. Michael says:

    On I-95
    somewhere just south of Philly,
    sitting in traffic.

    Look out the window
    Not forests, beaches or birds
    Just suburban sprawl

    Why all this traffic?
    Seventeen lanes for cars, but
    nowhere worth going.

    Fifty-five limit
    is not nearly fast enough
    to get somewhere else.

    Stop at the airport?
    Take the first plane out of here?
    Can’t – going to work.

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  6. Mike says:

    I don’t recall the name, but it’s a small stretch of road immediately West of I-25 by Palmer Lake (a ways south of Denver). Last year, I was out on a long bike ride, and this stretch was under construction. A little asphalt and a lot of gravel, road base, and potholes. It wasn’t great. I was just back there this past Sunday, and while construction is finished and the road is paved, it’s somehow rougher and more miserable to ride over than before.

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  7. Tzipporah says:

    While the confused navigation of former cow-paths-turned-asphalt in Boston and Cambridge are excellent fodder for this contest, I must claim Willow Ave in Somerville, MA as “the worst.”

    It is straight (mostly), which is always a plus.

    It has few potholes, or at least HAD few, years ago, when I traversed it regularly.

    It had relatively attractive houses alongside it, so the eyesore factor was minimal.

    Yet, in all my years of driving around Boston, it was on Willow Ave that I most often clutched my steering wheel in sheer terror that I was about to meet my end.

    Why?

    Parked cars.

    Cars, hundreds of them, parked on both sides of the street, within 4 feet of intersections all up and down this street.

    Trying to turn onto Willow was an excercise in bravado. First, following Boston-area protocol, you do not stop at the ‘Stop’ sign, but come to a halt ONLY when you can actually see whether there is traffic coming, which (given the parked cars), places you roughly in the middle of the intersection.

    Occasionally, less experienced or out-of-town drivers would attempt to inch out into the roadway, ever so slowly, only to find themselves trapped between oncoming cross-traffic on either side and native drivers behind who had no intention of stopping.

    Compared to the trial-by-fire of Willow, the daily route changes of the Big Dig were was minor potholes in the freeway of life.

    Had I stayed in the area longer, I might have been driven to purchase an SUV or minivan simply for the height advantage it would have provided in seeing over the parked cars. I can only imagine how much worse it is, today, with the trends I see elsewhere in the country to buying taller and taller cars.

    For heart-pounding, stroke-inducing, adrenaline-rushing, daily driving, I nominate Willow Ave. May I never see it again.

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  8. Julie says:

    When I lived just west of the river valley in Edmonton, Alberta, CANADA (so I know it may not count), there was just one bridge (the nightmare we call the Quesnell Bridge) that connected me to the south/east part of the city, which is where my family and friends lived, and where I worked. Any sort of attempt to find another route would cause about a half-hour delay on a normally 15-minute drive.

    Prior to beginning construction, this bridge was already a nightmare. I didn’t realize that “bridge slippery when wet” meant to slow down on a perfectly sunny summer day, but there were times when people would slow down for no reason causing what would be a 5 minute stretch at the speed limit to turn into a 30 minute wait.

    Then they began construction. After ripping up the road and median to re-route traffic, there were not potholes on the road, but giant craters. Heading home, during rush hour traffic (when people do not drive fast because of congestion and the aforementioned slow-down-for-the-bridge issue), they would position police cars with flashing lights along the route. This caused traffic to slow from an already slow 30 km/h to an aggravating 5 km/h. I would arrive home tense and stressed about being stuck in traffic and have vowed to move to NYC so I can just walk everywhere.

    All that was bad, but the worst would be arriving home or leaving late and finding that my only exit/entrance to this freeway was blocked for construction. I would have to go way out of the way to get where I needed to go.

    I have since moved and in addition to spending less time on the road, I am finding less grey hairs on my head.

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