Traffic in Patches

Yesterday was one of those days that gives New Jersey a bad name, if I can slightly misquote native son Jon Bon Jovi. Let's just summarize like this: I got home from a breakfast meeting at 12:45 PM. I could have returned from London faster than that.

Day started ideally, leaving the house around 6:00 to get into New York for a breakfast with quiet rock star Tim Marsland, CTO of Operating Platforms. He's quiet in a Steve Howe kind of rock star way - amazing good, but not jumping off the stage into a mosh pit of guys who understand in-memory page table structures. Great (but expensive) breakfast on the east side, caught the "E" train back (and it was only the third train to rumble through the Citi building station, not a bad deal), and I was back in my car at 9:00. So far, so good.

My usual escape from New York involves 11th Avenue, and making a left onto the Lincoln Tunnel Approach. Much faster than 9th Avenue, because you're not crossing any other major feeder lanes. However, 11th Avenue was the perfect image of gridlock yesterday, from the high 40s down to the tunnel approaches. Police cars blocking off the two left lanes at each east-bound street, no traffic entering the tunnel. Turns out all of the tubes were closed due to a suspicious package that triggered a full-scale alert and reaction. It was impressive how the city responded so quickly and quietly. But it cost me nearly an hour of time to be impressed.

No problems, New York travel has sufficient redundancy for just about any route. Over to the West Side Highway, up to the George Washington Bridge, dodging a broken-down van in the left lane, construction in the right lane of the bridge, and a few trucks on the way, I was on I-280 in Kearny, NJ, 11 miles from home, at 10:20 AM, thirty minutes after deciding to bail on the tunnel and go north. So far, so good, I can taste my second iced coffee of the morning already.

And then the traffic stopped. Just stopped. Like no forward motion stopped, and just 100 feet past the last exit on I-280 before the stretch that runs parallel to the train tracks and warehouses - for three miles. I had been listening to the local AM stations, hoping to find out why the tunnel was blocked, or to find out if other traffic surprises awaited me. No word. So I inched along, returned some phone calls, called in the traffic jam to 1010 WINS (where it was reported once, and then dropped again), and eventually saw that the entire jam up was caused by a crew doing repair on the steel grid deck of the Stickle bridge. Two guys welding shut down an interstate spur, creating a 5-mile, 2 hour-plus delay. Once through the congestion point, I was home in fifteen minutes, almost four hours after I left the garage in Manhattan.

As I was sitting (and steaming) in place, I thought of how this problem could have been avoided:

  • Placing a police cruiser at the Turnpike exit, directing cars away from I-280.
  • Placing a police cruiter at the first exit on I-280, before the jam up, sending cars onto the county road that would take them around the mess.
  • Getting official word out to the traffic monitoring radio stations, so that the volume of local traffic would be diverted elsewhere.
  • With some of those new highway traffic signs that indicate travel times and problems, which I've seen in Minnesota and California, giving travellers long lead times with which to make alternate routing choices. Bottom line is that the bridge needed the repair, or someone would hit that rough spot on the grid decking, blow out a tire and cause more personal and property damage. But the patch management could have been handled with significantly more knowledge and intelligence about the dependencies, timing, and downstream effects caused by its execution.

    That's why Sun is buying Aduva. It's strange how your mind will find these analogies when it's been focused on nothing other than the same bumper sticker in front of you for the past hour.

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    Hal Stern's thoughts on software, services, cloud computing, security, privacy, and data management

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