We just returned from a trip to Dallas, and in February, we'll go to Houston for a trade show. Folks, neither of these cities are Ten Minute Towns.
Our overnight trip to Dallas started at 5:30 in El Dorado, and by 7 we were having a Starbucks in Texarkana. Then, on to Dallas on I-30 at 75 MPH.
Well, if the trucks would stay out of the left lane, and the crazies, who think 75 MPH is only a recommendation, would just leave us out of their rush to the emergency room, it would certainly help. I'm not kidding when I tell you, if you are driving at 75 MPH, these nuts will leave you in their dust. They easily top 100 MPH as they weave in and out of traffic.
Well, Dallas, even with the trucks and crazies, is less than a five hour drive. That is, to the city limits. But when you get on 635, which is an eight-lane loop around the city, get ready for a big slowdown. Actually, slowdown is an understatement. It seems that with even a ripple of a problem, it becomes "how slow can you go without actually stopping."
I looked over at Vertis and commented, "How would you like to put up with this every day?" She shook her head no, and after another 30 minutes, where we probably went less than a mile, we reached our exit.
I had thought we were going to be an hour early for our eleven o'clock meeting, but with the traffic, we were almost late. The eight lanes of the current bypass are going to double to 16, and when I asked the manager of the business when they were going to finish the widening, he said "They have been working on it for fifteen years, and no one knows."
Of course, Dallas has been growing, and as folks move into the communities around the city, they put thousands of cars on the road. It's very much like an overweight man just letting out his belt instead of going on a diet. Will these mega cities one day reach a traffic saturation where even a minor fender bender causes hours of gridlock?
Well, as I finally made it to my exit, and glanced over at the four lanes of traffic heading in the opposite direction, I couldn't help but notice all traffic was at a standstill. Then I saw why. A minor accident, a true fender-bender, had put a halt to all traffic.
The problem of potential future gridlocks has solutions, and building more lanes for traffic is not one of them. Little children, sometimes, in their innocence can see a simple solution that adults try to complicate. One of our grandchildren made this comment: "I really like coming to visit El Dorado because McDonald's and Walmart are so easy to get to."
Well, that's the gridlock solution in one sentence, but achieving that solution is a bit harder. I would venture to say hundreds of thousands of mega city dwellers live as close to a Walmart and a McDonald's as we do, but our drive is only minutes, while theirs can take much, much longer.
As the mega cities reach their saturation point, the obvious solution is to move to a Ten Minute Town, and some city dwellers are doing just that.
However, another solution is to change their mode of transportation.
When we lived overseas, we had the opportunity to visit numerous European cities, and I marveled at Amsterdam's downtown, which had been virtually taken over by bicycle riders. Of course, since the majority of Amsterdam's downtown workers either live in or very close to the city center, just riding a bike to work is a simple proposition.
Intercity rail is an obvious solution, but most mega cities have only given it lip service. As the suburbs grow, areas such as Katy, Texas, a bedroom town outside of Houston, are growing so fast that even 16 lanes of highway can't keep up, and as that rush to the suburbs continues, the demand for more lanes will increase. Of course that can't continue, but mega-cities folks seem to be slow learners.
Now, back to the Ten Minute Town discussion. It seems these towns have everything going for them but jobs, and where are the jobs? In the mega cities of course. Now comes the hard part.
Currently, many of our largest corporations are actively centralizing their main offices, and that means, at least for the companies, a more efficient, and a more economical way to do business.
However, as they rush to centralize, they move more and more people into overcrowded cities, and there has been a significant number of those workers who would rather quit than transfer.
It's easy to understand why. You have mega cities that are becoming more and more crowded and almost unlivable, and companies that want to pack workers into an overcrowded, unlivable workplace. The solution is sure not more traffic lanes to the suburbs; it is exactly the opposite.
These companies must abandon their rush to centralize if they want to keep their workers. We live in an electronic era where the necessary data and information resources are only a click away. COVID taught us this, and today, hundreds of thousands of workers who worked from home during COVID are telling their companies that they aren't going to reenter the rat race of 14 to 16 lanes of traffic to go to work. Can these companies afford to lose thousands of these critical workers?
I worked for one of the largest corporations in the world, EXXON, and even back then a lot of the companies's business was done from remote locations. It is obvious that decentralization should be the goal of not only the mega-companies, but even for the medium to small businesses that want to keep their current employees and attract other skilled workers.
Now the question for these companies becomes, where are the spots that would give their workers relief from the hassle of mega cities? The hassle is not just the crowded eight, 10 or 12 lanes of traffic that these employees fight on a daily basis. Instead of an eight hour workday, these employees are working a 10-plus hour day if you count their commute, and many times that is the most stressful time of the day for them.
I think the solution is obviously to decentralize to the Ten Minute Towns. El Dorado is a perfect example, but there are thousands more of these towns which have most of the mega cities amenities without the hassle.
It is not only ten minutes to an El Dorado McDonald's and Walmart from my house, but I drive less than ten minutes to my downtown office, to our Arts Center, to the Murphy Arts District and to any one of the many restaurants in our town. Deer are a frequent visitor to my backyard, and we live within the city limits of our Ten Minute Town.
The nation's Ten Minute Towns are our country's best kept secret.
Richard Mason is an author and speaker. He can be reached at [email protected].