Tulip Derangement Syndrome
The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival is out of control.
Like most healthcare workers, I am called upon to work a share of weekends. It was my turn this past Saturday and Sunday. I knew traffic would be heavy, because the tulips are starting to bloom. I have been commuting this route for seventeen years now. This weekend I encountered something unprecedented. I have never experienced anything quite like it.
At 4:00 PM on Saturday, Interstate 5 northbound was in gridlock from Conway, Washington to the Kincaid Street exit in Mount Vernon. Moving a car length at a time, it took a full hour to drive the 5.3 mile/8.3 km distance. I discovered that the Kincaid exit was the bottleneck and planned my strategy for Sunday. Get in the left lane before Conway and stay there.
It was worse on Sunday. The backup extended past Starbird Road to the Snohomish County line, about 8 miles/13 km to Kincaid Street. My strategy quickly changed. I decided to get off the freeway at Conway. I would risk taking Fir Island and Best Roads to Highway 20, then on to Anacortes. This year there is only one tulip field along that route. The traffic on those country roads would be slow, but at least, it should keep moving. I was wrong.
On Fir Island, people stopped their cars right on the road to get out and take pictures of Mount Baker. A single flock of Snow Geese proved to be another distraction. The fruit stand near the Skagit North Fork was creating a major bottleneck. Rounding the bend near La Conner, I encountered another choke point. It was that one tulip field across from Christianson's Nursery. There are no shoulders on Best Road. Cars parked along both sides of the road anyway intruding into the roadway. Two lanes of traffic had to squeeze between them. It was total chaos and a recipe for disaster. At the same time, pedestrians were milling back and forth across the road. They seemed to be in a state of insensibility, oblivious to the moving traffic. They were like bird dogs on the pheasant. They were like heroine addicts at the methadone clinic. I was witnessing tulip derangement syndrome up close.
Once I got past that damn tulip field, the traffic opened up and it was smooth sailing to Anacortes. I got home 10 minutes sooner than on Saturday. It turned out to be a good idea to get off I-5 when I did.
As a gardener, I don't understand the appeal of tulips. They are not particularly desirable plants. They are fussy and demanding and require specific weather conditions for a good bloom. They are beautiful in the fields and look good in masses, but most gardens I see present them in spindly rows. After a short bloom, you get a weedy looking aftermath. I'll take a rhododendron anytime, a plant that fits the environment and looks good year around.
The Skagit County powers-that-be must find solutions for the Tulip Festival traffic problems. If they don't, the whole event will implode under its own weight. A minor emergency could become a disaster. The county is not equipped to handle the traffic volumes this thing is creating. Some system of park-and-ride with shuttle buses might be a good start.
I am so thankful I don't have to work next weekend. On top of it being Easter, the tulip fields will be in full bloom. I fear the traffic conditions will be even worse. For local residents, the only thing that will save us is bad weather. We can hope.
Photos: Microsoft Clipart; John O'Neill via Wikimedia Commons