December 13, 2023

The Washington Bridge

On December 11th, 2023, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation closed the Washington Bridge in Providence, RI (where I live) indefinitely and without warning.

It is the primary bridge in the area. According to news reports, almost 100k cars and trucks cross the Washington Bridge daily.

There’s a much smaller bridge about a half mile north that immediately began handling about ten times more traffic than it was designed for.

By the next morning, the neighborhoods on either end of the smaller bridge were completely gridlocked with traffic.

I heard stories from friends and neighbors like:

“I left home at 5am and got to work at 10:30am.”

“It took me two hours to drive three miles.”

“I should have walked to work. It would’ve been faster.”

And my favorite:

“It took me 30 minutes to back out of my driveway.”

(One daring fellow even started kayaking across the river to avoid the traffic!)


The whole thing got me thinking about capacity, congestion, utilization, and queueing theory.

Here’s the thing...

I’m no expert, but it feels like running your schedule at maximum capacity is exponentially harder than running it at 75-80ish percent.

In other words...

As you approach maximum capacity, it’s as if complexity and congestion approach infinity.


Not only is it okay to have slack in your schedule, it’s probably necessary if you want to avoid a breakdown, burnout, or crash.

The longer you run at full capacity, the higher the odds of total gridlock.