Dr. Gridlock

Lynn Woodward sold men's clothing, made millions in real estate, and raced Corvettes at 120 mph. Now he dreams of a car-free society.

Woodward, a fussy, regular rider, bears down on his wristwatch like a track coach. "I have this set exactly at WCCO time, which is what the bus company uses," he declares as the bus idles at a stop. "If he leaves in five seconds, he's right on time." A few moments pass. "He's right on time today," he observes. "Amazingly."

The bus begins to turn off West Seventh. "He needs a lane here so he doesn't have to flow into traffic," Woodward observes. He frets about time wasted sitting at stop lights, then talks up a device used in Madison, whereby bus drivers can click a switch to change traffic lights from red to green.

The No. 54 isn't an express route; it's billed as a "limited stop" run. As the bus pulls onto 35E, Woodward keeps pulling back the green sleeve of his winter jacket to check his watch. Owing to noise complaints from nearby residents, the official speed limit on this section of road is 45 miles per hour. Woodward notes that the bus driver appears to be the only one adhering to the law this afternoon. And he figures that noise problems could be addressed just off the road's shoulder: "If they planted trees on this thing, they'd kill about half the sound. It'd take about a minute less if it went 65 miles per hour like a normal freeway."

Outside, the snow falls unabated. ("We should be there by now. But I'll give 'em the weather," Woodward says at one point.) Still, even under less-than-ideal conditions, the trip from downtown St. Paul to the airport takes only 20 minutes. "Rather than $100 million, why don't they just market this?" Woodward wonders aloud, spreading his arms to refer to the bus.

From there, Woodward catches a 4D, which wends through Highland Park and then back up Snelling Avenue. Woodward gets off at the intersection of Grand Avenue and finally drops off his dry cleaning. He crosses the street to catch an eastbound bus back toward his apartment. He chuckles over the fact that within the span of a little more than two hours, he has ridden four different buses for one dollar and a transfer. And as he boards the last bus for home, he can't help but play the role of Dr. Gridlock. "We want to thank the taxpayers for subsidizing this trip!" he bellows.

 

Intern Ben Ganje contributed research to this story.

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