It’s move-in day at NAU and one of the busiest traffic days of the year in Flagstaff.
How long would it take, asked an editor, to get from the Daily Sun office on South Thompson in west Flagstaff to Bashas’ in north downtown, with a stop first at the post office to mail an important letter?
Reporters Emery Cowan (bicycle), Corina Vanek (car) and Max Lancaster (bus) took up the challenge. Fellow reporter Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa served as a monitor at the post office to keep them honest. Photographer Taylor Mahoney tracked them from start to finish as best he could. Following is their minute-by-minute account:
2:53 p.m. Max The Route 7 arrives on time and departs a minute later. My strategy is to take Route 7 to the intersection of Butler Avenue and San Francisco Street. From there I will quickly walk to the Post Office on North Agassiz Street and then make the 3:25 p.m. stop on Route 2 at the intersection of San Francisco Street and Birch Avenue.
2:54 Emery I start out from the Daily Sun heading downhill on Thompson Street toward Route 66. Looking to my left, the coast is clear for me to turn right onto Route 66, sticking as close as I can to the shoulder as cars zoom past me. I begin to pedal, savoring the few seconds that I’ll be in the lead before Corina passes me.
2:54 Corina: I pass Emery headed east on Route 66. My route will include taking Route 66 east to Milton, then Milton to Humphreys to Aspen to Agassiz. Under the rules, I will not be allowed to park in the 15-minute post office parking lot, so instead I will have to find on-street parking downtown.
2:55 Emery After careful consideration of my most efficient route, I decide to take a left onto Woodland Village Boulevard, opting to wind my way through Kaibab Lane and Plaza Vieja instead of facing the tangled and somewhat terrifying (for a cyclist) traffic of the Milton corridor.
2:57 Emery I'm cruising down Kaibab Lane, and there is no traffic to speak of. The only thing slowing me down are a few speedbumps and the occasional puddle.
2:58: Corina: I arrive at the intersection of Milton and Route 66, the light is green to turn left but there are about 20 cars in front of me to turn.
3:01 Emery After zig-zagging through the quiet neighborhoods of Plaza Vieja, I pop out from Phoenix Avenue onto Milton Road. No sign of Corina and the traffic isn't looking bad. I'm worried I may have lost my brief lead. Avoiding the street, I take a hard left onto the sidewalk that parallels Milton, head under the underpass and toward Aspen Avenue.
3:02 Emery I meet my first red light at Aspen Avenue and Humphreys Street. Looking ahead, I know I have to get through just a few blocks and a string of downtown stoplights until I'm at the post office. Still no sign of Corina.
3:02: Corina: I have sat through two light cycles at Milton and Route 66 before I’m finally able to make the left turn. The light at Milton and Butler is green but I will not be able to make it through before it turns red.
3:02 Emery The light changes and I'm off, pedaling as quickly as I can because I know these lights are timed. It’s a bit of a struggle but I make them, one after another.
3:03 Max Thanks to some fortunate green lights and a bit of aggressive driving by my bus driver at the intersection of Route 66 and Milton Road, I arrive at Butler and San Francisco in just 10 minutes. I get off the bus and begin briskly walking down San Francisco Street. I feel confident I can make it to the post office and then to my bus stop on Route 2. My only concern is being stopped by a passing train, a nightmare that almost comes to fruition had I not changed my pace to a modest jog.
3:03: Corina: I made it through the light at Milton and Butler and I’m waiting in the left lane to turn north onto Humphreys. The light is green with no turn arrow and traffic is too heavy to turn without it. I’ll have to wait for the next cycle for the green arrow.
3:04: Corina I just make it through the light on Humphreys and turn right onto Aspen. A construction vehicle from the Marriott hotel project is blocking my path in the left lane, so I merge to the right to get around it.
3:04 Emery I turn onto Agassiz Street with the post office in sight and start looking for a place to park my bike. Conveniently two racks in front of the building are both empty. No downtown parking woes for me. I stash my bike and run inside, where Suzanne tells me I'm the first one there. Excellent. We snap a quick photo and then I’m off to Basha’s.
3:05 Emery A few seconds later, only mildly out of breath, I'm back on my bike heading north.
3:06: Corina: I’m at the post office but there’s no parking, I’ll have to circle around to find some.
3:06 Emery After turning right on San Francisco Street, I head up toward Hospital Hill. I'm breathing hard and wish I had taken off my cardigan. I'm also starting to wish I had opted for the air-conditioned bus. I can't stop now, though. I think I’m still in the lead.
3:08: Corina I circle north on Agassiz to Cherry with no success. I finally find a parking spot north of the Ice House on Birch.
3:08 Emery I turn left onto Columbus Avenue and have to wait for two red lights before I can turn into the Basha’s parking lot. Still no sign of Corina. I can’t imagine Max is even close.
3:09: Corina I’m slightly out of breath from sprinting from my car to the post office, but I checked in at 3:09. Suzanne took my picture and said Emery had already been there.
3:10 Max I am still on foot. I take a right on Route 66 and San Francisco Street and then a quick left onto Agassiz Street.
3:10 Emery After a final climb into the Bashas’ parking lot I take a look around and declare victory. Corina is nowhere to be seen and it looks like I’ve even managed to beat our photographer, Taylor, who was supposed to be here to catch the winner’s arrival. I bask in the glory of my first-place finish until the others arrive.
3:10: Corina: Someone Suzanne told about our gridlock challenge wished me good luck as I sprinted back to my car for the second leg of the challenge. Birch is a one-way street so my plan is to turn right at San Francisco and take it north to Columbus, then take Columbus to Basha’s.
3:12: Corina: I got pretty lucky on traffic and it was smooth sailing from the post office to Basha’s. But, as I pulled into the parking lot, I see that Emery has beaten me there.
3:13 Max I arrive at the post office, another quick arrival I was not expecting.
3:20 Max I arrive at the bus stop on San Francisco Street and Birch Avenue five minutes early.
3:30 Max Route 2 bus arrives., five minutes late. I hop on the bus and head to Flagstaff Medical Center.
3:32 Max My ride to FMC is short, two minutes, but I make a critical mistake as I arrive at the hospital. I forget to pull the cord to stop the bus and my driver zooms on past.
3:34 Max I arrive at the next stop at Turquoise Drive and Forest Avenue. I accept my mistake and begin to run back to my final destination of Bashas’.
3:44 Max After an unexpected bit of exercise I arrive at Bashas’. Corina and Emery are waiting for me. Without the overshoot of the right stop, I estimate my arrival would have been closer to 3:35 p.m.