Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney is city editor of the Napa Valley Register.

Two weeks ago I wrote a column lamenting Napa’s worsening congestion. The column was a laundry list of my favorite traffic gripes.

For local resident Brent Farlie, my woes were just the half of it. The reality for most drivers is far worse, he said.

In contrast, James McCeney, a winemaker/transportation enthusiast, suggested I look on the bright side.

Bright side? When it comes to traffic, there’s a bright side?

Farlie said locals have been “sacrificed” on the “altar of tourism and greed” by public officials who aren’t looking out for them.

Signals on Soscol aren’t synchronized. Downtown hotels are usurping public parking spaces. “The issue in the end is the complete and utter lack of balance between tourism and the needs of the citizens of this city,” Farlie wrote.

I understood where Farlie’s coming from. In 2009, I wrote about his campaign to get the city to replace the crumbling asphalt in front of his home on Harding Avenue.

“I wore them out,” he said as the paving machines went to work. “The only chance you have is if you never ever let up.”

Ten years later, Farlie is giving up on Napa. He’s moving to Oregon, in part because of our worsening traffic.

McCeney is not giving up. He called my traffic column overly pessimistic. When I worried about the traffic impacts of more apartments coming to First Street and Freeway Drive, I was being “myopic” — lacking intellectual insight, according to the dictionary definition.

In his email, McCeney did not deny the “often soul-crushing reality of commuting in and out of Napa,” but he said there were reasons for optimism.

He ticked off the following projects: Traffic lights on Highway 29 in American Canyon are going to be synchronized, an overpass is planned to carry Highway 29 over 221, roundabouts are going to reduce tie-ups at First and California, the Vine Trail is being expanded to get people out of their vehicles and a pedestrian/bike path is planned under 29 at First.

As for my concern about more apartments on First, he suggested I look at the big picture. My drive to work might be “slightly impeded,” but the region’s overall congestion would be lessened by having workers living closer to their Napa jobs.

I wondered what kind of Pollyanna would write an email such as this? His optimism ran against the spirit of our time. Did the man even own a car?

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To find out more, I invited McCeney to call me.

McCeney turned out to be a Napan with motoring frustrations just like everybody else. For example, it slays him that the lights on 29 in north Napa aren’t synchronized for better flow.

“We’ve put a man on the moon. Why can’t we sequence these traffic lights?” he asked. “Why are we punishing ourselves?”

While he doesn’t deny the traffic negatives, McCeney doesn’t obsess on them. He sees positive forces at work.

It takes the sting out of sitting in slow-moving traffic if you realize it’s caused by a good economy and so many people having jobs, he said.

I hadn’t looked at the situation this way. I’d only been thinking about ME.

McCeney displayed an uncanny amount of knowledge about projects intended to reduce our traffic misery.

I, too, knew of these projects. Am I not the city editor of the Register? Yet I hadn’t put much hope on their adding up to much.

Why was he such a highways-half-full kind of guy?

What emerged was our conversation’s little aha moment. It seems that McCeney’s wife, Rebecca Schenck, is a policy analyst with the Napa Valley Transportation Authority.

“This is all dinner conversation,” he said of his traffic talking points. “It’s part of the reason we love each other. She’s very civic minded.”

When our chat ended, I felt better about things. McCeney’s optimism had improved my outlook.

As for the future, he suggested I join him and listen to podcasts when driving in Napa and the Bay Area.

“I try to zone out and focus on what I’m listening to,” he said. “It’s certainly easy to get bent out of shape.”

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Kevin can be reached at 707-256-2217 or Napa Valley Register, 1615 Soscol Ave., Napa, 94559, or kcourtney@napanews.com.


City Editor

Kevin has been city editor since September 2010. He joined the Register in 1973 as a reporter. He covered Napa City Hall and assorted other beats over the years. Kevin has been writing his Napa Journal column on Sundays since 1989.