Are you sick of the George Washington Bridge scandal yet? Or just sick of the way some in the media talk about it?
I’m talking about “snarled,” of course, which is inevitably how reporters and pundits describe the traffic outside the bridge after two inbound lanes were closed last year. But journalists are the only people on God’s green earth — which includes, yes, New Jersey — who use the word “snarled” for that. They also trot out the term “jackknifed,” whenever a tractor-trailer tips over. When was the last time you said “jackknifed”? . . . But I digress.
Traffic doesn’t snarl; people snarl, when they are stuck in traffic. And several appointees to Gov. Chris Christie decided to find out just how much New Jerseyans snarl. I refer, of course, to the alleged “traffic study,” which is how Christie’s loyal legions justified closing the bridge lanes in the first place.
I’m especially curious to know the hypothesis of that research. I imagine it went something like this: the more we restrict traffic, the more misery will come to people who voted against Christie in the last election.
And Fort Lee seemed like a natural laboratory for this experiment, I suppose, because it’s right next to the George Washington Bridge. And its Democratic mayor — a “little Serbian” named Mark Sokolich — supported Barbara Buono, Christie’s hapless opponent in last year’s election.
Now, as every good academician knows, experiments can generate unforeseen consequences. How could the researchers know that emergency medical crews would take longer than normal to reach the ill, or that school buses (filled, incidentally, with “children of Buono voters”) would be stalled?
Nor did they intend to turn the little Serbian into a folk hero — albeit, a Croatian one. They hypothesized that the traffic tie-ups would hurt him. Little did they imagine that they would hurt Christie instead.
Christie says he knew nothing — nothing! — about plans to close the bridge lanes. And I believe him. They do a lot of research in the State of New Jersey, and the governor doesn’t have time to monitor all of it, and he can’t be everywhere at once.
Remember, he gets snarled in traffic, too.
Jonathan Zimmerman is a professor of history and education at New York University. He is the author of “Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory.”