Monday, August 15, 2005

Damn This Traffic Jam

Word of the day: gridlock. It means the grid is locked, as in north-south traffic remains in the intersection after its light turns red, preventing east-west traffic from moving when its light turns green.

It is not an all-purpose synonym for "congested traffic." You can't have gridlock on a freeway.

20 comments:

Dave said...

Except that, presumably, the reason no traffic is moving on I-95 northbound or southbound is because -- there's gridlock: cars are backed up on the exit ramps and the connecting surface streets. Traffic doesn't just stop on expressways in the absence of the entire traffic grid getting jammed. OK, maybe there's an accident cutting traffic across all six lanes northbound, but southbound traffic is flowing. In that specific case, gridlock wouldn't make sense. Otherwise, your blanket denial that expressways are part of the overall traffic grid seems too strict.

Bill003 said...

I think I have to vote in favor of a more generic, looser definition, too. The strict definition presumes stoplight intersections with four-way traffic, etc., whereas Dave's right--expressway entrances can back up. I think gridlock ought to apply to any situation where the traffic is basically dead-stopped (for whatever reason). "Congested" implies thick but still moving traffic, perhaps at close-to-normal speed, or just crawling, but in any case, still moving. Think of the Bay Bridge on a Sunday night--that's congestion. But there has to be a separate word for dead-stopped traffic, and gridlock does it for me.

Bill said...

A bumper-to-bumper freeway backup attributable to gridlock elsewhere is not "gridlock on the freeway."

It would be a shame to take this very specific word and ruin it. You need grid + lock to = gridlock.

Peter Fisk said...

Well, I've certainly seen gridlock in Boston, even though the streets there are not on a regular 90-degree grid. I don't think we're diminishing the term gridlock if we allow it to include diagonal roads or curvy roads or elevated highways that are stopped because vehicles can't move on or off the ramps.

Bill said...

Phil Blanchard, you'll be stunned to learn, has a stricter definition still.

Peter Fisk said...

... If we're talking about a stretch of limited-access highway that is backed up as a result of something other than off-highway traffic, gridlock would indeed be the wrong term.

Peter Fisk said...

I'd ask what Phil's stricter definition is, but odds are it will be forthcoming with or without my request.

Peter Fisk said...

… To clarify, I mean if traffic is stopped on a limited-access highway because of traffic that is stopped on the ramps in true gridlock – be it a right-angle grid or otherwise – the vehicles on the highway are part of the gridlock.

Bill said...

At a minimum, I'd say:

If somebody's angry stab at the gas pedal would generate a broadside collision, it's gridlock. If any such collision would merely be a rear-ender, it's just a traffic jam.

Phil, as I understand it, demands landlocked immobility affecting multiple intersections.

Peter Fisk said...

If that's Phil's stricter definition, I agree with it. It does take more than one intersection to achieve gridlock. Otherwise, it's just intersectionlock

Phillip Blanchard said...

"Landlocked immobility affecting multiple intersections" on a grid, yes.

Peter Fisk said...

** Landlocked. **

Peter Fisk said...

... No schooners allowed.

Peter Fisk said...

... Coincidentally, there are in fact seagoing vessels that are regular elements of the Boston traffic nightmare. I rode in one a couple of weeks ago.

http://www.scubamom.com/travels/fallfoliage/ducktour.jpg

Bill said...

I did that tour, too, on my one visit to Boston!

Russinoff said...

what's a multiple intersection?
Is it possible that you meant "several intersections"?

Steroid said...

There's an issue being missed here: from the signs I've seen in New York City, causing gridlock is a ticketable offense, whereas causing a traffic jam may or may not be.

Craig said...

" You need grid + lock to = gridlock."

Do you then need chair + man to = chairman?
Words and their meanings evolve. We had a phenomenon to describe, and a word that already described something similar, and we stretched. Sue us.

Bill said...

Yes, language evolves. And the battle to retain precision and specificity in language never ends. "Similar" should not be good enough, but people are lazy, and eventually we have to invent terms that would have been redundant 20 years earlier. Someday we'll have "gridlock that involves the locking of a grid, as opposed to just plain gridlock."

MuPu said...
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