For Sale: Eclipse Glasses, Slightly Used

The Antiplanner’s eclipse was nearly smoke-free, thank you. In fact, I was in one of the best places in the nation to watch the eclipse, as we were also cloud-free.

Waiting for the eclipse near Camp Sherman.

Prior to the eclipse, many people were predicting chaos and even a “disaster nightmare.” “Officials are bracing for toilet shortages, cellular blackout zones and the potential for emergency service vehicles to be stuck in traffic.”

As far as I know, there were no toilet shortages or cell phone blackout zones around here. Madras, Oregon, a few miles away from here, was supposed to be the epicenter of the chaos. But as of Saturday, Madras merchants were still waiting for the chaos, saying that they had stocked up on eclipse memorabilia, cold drinks, and various other things, but weren’t seeing the sales they had anticipated.

The eclipse over Green Ridge.

The only traffic problem prior to the eclipse was a 15-mile back-up of people trying to reach an eclipse festival near Prineville, which attracted more than twice as many people as anticipated.

Totality wasn’t as dark as I expected.

The real problem came after the eclipse. People traveled to the zone of totality over a period of several days, but as soon as the eclipse ended, they seemed to all head home. This led to severe traffic jams on Interstate 5 north and south of Salem and U.S. 97 north and south of Madras. Some of the worst traffic was south of Madras, because one segment of the a four-lane highway between Madras and Bend shrinks to a two-lane road. The traffic finally started broking up there at about 7:30 pm, nine hours after the total eclipse ended and nearly eight after the eclipse was completely over.

Oregon has been planning for the eclipse for more than a year. State and local governments probably spent millions on their plans. Yet all the state could do in face of entirely predictable (and predicted) traffic jams was to exhort people to “please stay put if possible.”

The state could have temporarily restriped (with orange pylons) highway 97 for three lanes, two of them in the direction of anticipated traffic. Similarly, it could have allowed people on I-5 to use the inside shoulder lane, which as the photo above shows is broad enough for traffic. Oregon has no left exits on its interstates, so opening this lane to traffic would not have caused any interference with people getting on or off the highway.

It doesn’t take a genius to come up with these ideas. To me, this is just one more example of how government planners, for all their pretensions, are pretty useless. Most of the problems caused by the eclipse worked themselves out, and the ones that were left were ones the government could have fixed, but didn’t bother to.


11 thoughts on “For Sale: Eclipse Glasses, Slightly Used

  1. OFP2003

    Mr. O’Toole, I have to respectfully disagree. Maryland’s Route 50 still has a problem with people entering the highway going the wrong way.

    Highway planners have been trying to solve this problem for years. So many people use the highways that you have to plan for the lowest most very basic common denominator, and everything has to be super consistent (because nobody expects to have to think when they are driving). I don’t blame them for not flipping lanes.

    I am not familiar with the location where people are getting on Rt 50 going the wrong way. I guess a real test of the government planner’s ability would be to analyze this problem and see just how difficult it actually is.

  2. Sandy Teal

    We were told that there is no safe way to even glance at the eclipse without ISO approved glasses. So millions of people glanced at the sun yesterday without the ISO glasses and today the hospitals are flooded with millions of blind people. Except they are not. Is there a single blind person? The Washington Post has an article today about a person blinded by an eclipse… 50 years ago.

  3. sprawl

    This is my 2nd eclipse, my first one I only had to go to the roof of the building I was working at. This time I easily drove to a viewing point on top of a large hill and watched the stunning event and fireworks over the city of Salem. Driving home was as expected, a 3 hour trip that usually takes 40 minutes.
    While driving home I wondered how the state of Oregon would handle a disaster of any kind, with their lack of road capacity.
    My brother lives in Texas and that is where I will be for the 2014 eclipse. This time sitting in his yard because they don’t have any hills of mountains for watch it from.

  4. The Antiplanner Post author


    MD Route 50 may be poorly signed but that isn’t evidence that people can’t handle traffic changes in broad daylight (the MD 50 accident was at night). Highway managers often make changes, for construction, maintenance, detours around accidents, and so forth. Many places have reversible traffic lanes. Oregon highway planners seem to care less about moving people and more about teaching them a lesson that driving is bad.

  5. pokep

    I’m sorry, but I’m pretty happy that the state put its law-enforcement resources in other places and refused to put much of anything towards mitigating a one-time-only traffic jam that even the densest traveler could anticipate and avoid.

    ODOT does a fantastic job of making sure that road construction has as little impact on travel as possible. They are the best in the country at keeping lanes open and moving during projects. They have been pioneers in privatizing design and construction. And it is ODOT that has provided the reports that this very web site uses to point out the serious stupidity of Portland’s transit policies. For the “anti-planner” to criticize the one agency in Oregon that sings from the same songbook is a little sad.

    Meanwhile, the idea of putting traffic on the shoulders would have never passed muster with the local authorities – and for good reason. Those lanes are essential for emergency vehicles, and given the huge number of tourists in the area, the summer heat, and fire risks, it would have been pure folly to let those fill with traffic. Far better to let the tourists get home a little later than risk ambulances not being able to get through.

  6. The Antiplanner Post author


    You make a good point about emergency vehicles. But opening the left shoulder on I-5 would have left the right shoulder for emergency vehicles. Other states have opened up shoulders to buses and even general traffic during congested periods. On U.S. 97, the photographs show enough cars parked on the shoulders that emergency vehicles couldn’t have gotten through anyway. Turning those shoulders into travel lanes would have prevented the parking.

    ODOT may be good at minimizing delays due to construction, but I don’t remember quoting any ODOT studies critical of Portland transit. ODOT has long had the attitude that “we can’t build our way out of congestion so we just won’t build any new capacity even as the state’s population doubles.” I have no idea why ODOT made no effort to relieve congestion after the eclipse, but I don’t think emergency vehicles alone justifies and and I suspect it more has to do with this attitude.

    Both I-5 and US 97 had eight hours of bumper-to-bumper congestion after the eclipse. My point is that the state talked about planning for the eclipse for a long time, but failed to really do anything about it. If they weren’t going to do anything about it, they should have saved their collective breaths.

  7. pokep

    AP: Didn’t you report on this?

    It has been all around the PDX media and got a fair bit of attention nationwide.

    I don’t know where you got the impression that ODOT is anti-freeway. ODOT is the only government organization that I know of pushing highway construction forward in PDX. This report puts it in a nice graphic right up front in the executive summary: “WHILE THE POPULATION HAS GROWN BY 3.0%, HOURS OF CONGESTION HAVE INCREASED 13.6%, AND DAILY VEHICLE HOURS OF DELAY HAVE INCREASED 22.6%. THERE HAS BEEN JUST OVER 1% GROWTH IN FREEWAY LANE MILES.”

    That’s a hell of a statement, don’t you think? And from a government agency is a very liberal state.

  8. the highwayman

    CapitalistRoader; The drive back would have been less stressful with this automation.

    THWM; So you want money, but don’t want to do any work for it. :$

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