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Apr 02 2007

Driving notes

Why is that some drivers don’t understand simple road courtesy that should be instinctively obvious to anyone? Here are some examples of what I mean.

1. I think it was Gregory Szorc who raised this driving peeve some time ago but I want to bring it up again. I drive to work along residential streets that allow for just one lane of traffic each way. But cars are allowed to park on one side of the street so sometimes you will find that a parked car is blocking your lane. If another car is approaching on the other side, it should be obvious to anyone that that car has the right of way and that you should remain behind the parked car and only pull out and go around the parked car once the road is clear. And yet I repeatedly find that cars swerve around the parked car and expect the oncoming traffic to stop and wait for them until they get back into their own lane. It seems as if the blocked lane car drivers have a sense of grievance that because they were blocked, others should move out of the way to accommodate them. A curious reaction.

2. Another peeve occurs when approaching Case along North Park at the point where it merges with MLK drive. At that point, North Park narrows from two lanes of traffic to just one with no indication as to which lane should yield. So it should be obvious that drivers in the two lanes should alternate while merging zipper-style. But very often, there is a driver who is determined to get ahead of the rightful car and so comes right up to the bumper of the car in front so that two cars from the same lane enter the narrow strip. On occasion I have seen even a third car try to creep in ahead of the rightful car.

What puzzles me is that there is so little to be gained by this act of petty road rudeness. The only time you have saved is the time taken to travel one car length, which is less than one second. So why do drivers do this?

3. Then there is the person who is scared to wear out their turn signals. On occasion I will see a car ahead of me in the adjacent lane wiggling back and forth sideways erratically. I usually assume that it is someone on a cell phone but they sometimes suddenly cut into my lane and I realize that what they were really trying to do was get into my lane and the wiggles were merely aborted attempts. All this angst on their part could have been avoided if they simply signaled their intent. Like many drivers, if I see someone indicating that they want to move into my lane in traffic, I drop back and flash my high beams to let them know they can. So why do people not even bother to signal their intentions and let other people make room for them?

4. When visibility is poor due to heavy rain or snow, it sometimes is of no help to you to put on your lights because it does not increase your own range of vision. But you should put them on anyway because it helps other people to see you. Why is this so hard to understand for some drivers, who insist on surprising other people by their sudden appearance out of the gloom?

5. The bank I use has two drive-up ATMs next to each other. Because they are close to each other, you cannot cut sharply enough to get close to the second one if there is a car at the first one. If both machines are being unused, you would think that the first car to arrive would move up to the farther machine so that the car behind would be able to drive up to the first one. And yet, time and again, I have seen the first car stop at the first machine, thus causing the second car to have to wait for them to finish their transaction, even though there is a vacant machine. I have to think that such people are simply oblivious to the world around them.

6. This is not a peeve but an observation. Traffic circles are a rarity in the US, reserved for major intersections. But I found that in Australia and New Zealand traffic circles are very common, replacing four-way stop signs even in residential areas. They work very well because a circle causes traffic to slow down without having to stop, the right of way is clear, and it makes for smooth driving. They use circles even for T-junctions.

I have even seen them used where there is no intersection at all, where they seem to serve as a speed control device in residential areas. A long uninterrupted road might tempt people to speed, even in a residential area. Having to slow down to go around the circle serves to moderate speeds without the jarring effect of speed bumps, the option most frequently used here. This is an idea worth adopting from those countries.

7. There is one thing that those countries could learn from the US and that is the use of the center yellow line to separate lanes of traffic going in opposite directions. They use a complicated system of solid, long-dashed, and short-dashed lines, all white, and on multiple lane roads it was sometimes not clear to me where the line separating opposing lines of traffic was. Given that I was having to be extra cautious because I was driving on the “wrong” side of the road, this was quite a concern. A yellow center line removes all the ambiguity.

POST SCRIPT: Interviews with Richard Dawkins and Francis Collins

Terry Gross of Fresh Air had two in-depth interviews last week on the science religion issue. The first interview was with Richard Dawkins and the second was with Francis Collins.

Both people are eminent scientists who took quite different paths when it comes to religion. Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist who was mildly religious as a child but became an atheist in his teens when he discovered Darwin’s ideas. Francis Collins was head of the Human Genome Project and was not religious as a child but became an evangelical Christian in his twenties.

Dawkins’ views are quite well-known. Collins is a ‘two-worlds’ advocate (science deals with the material world, religion deals with the spiritual world) who thinks that god works though the laws of science like evolution.

Terry Gross does a good job of letting the two guests expand on their views. The interviews are each about 40 minutes in length. There are also supposed to be a downloadable podcasts but I could not find them.

13 comments

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  1. 1
    Nicole

    They work very well because a circle causes traffic to slow down without having to stop, the right of way is clear, and it makes for smooth driving.

    I wish I could say that the right of way in a traffic circle was clear to most Americans, but I know from a summer of living with my parents, who have two little traffic circles right near their house, that that is far from the case. I could not tell you the number of times I was waiting to get into the circle and actually had people in the circle come to a full stop because they thought I had precedence over them.

  2. 2
    Anonymous

    the podcast is at

    http://www.npr.org/rss/podcast/podcast_detail.php?siteId=7060034

    once you click on the itunes button the itunes program will launch and the npr page will load within the itunes store. then you can select the specific day you wish to download.

  3. 3
    Mano Singham

    Nicole,

    Maybe if they were more common, people would know better what to do.

    People who do the wrong thing even out of consideration for others can really mess things up. Near my house I have a stop sign for my direction but not for the cross traffic. When I stop there, sometimes people who are on te other street will stop, even thought they do not have a stop sign, putting me in a quandary.

  4. 4
    Matt

    I was wondering how other countries marked the direction of lanes. I left the country for the first time over spring break to go on a Weatherhead trip to Budapest and Prague. I spent the entire trip terrified that our tour bus was going to get us killed in a head-on collision. I agree that a little bit of yellow would go a long way.

  5. 5
    Heidi Cool

    I’m always confounded by the people who don’t understand that blocking intersections is a good way to create gridlock. If the light is green, yet there is no room on the other side of the intersection, then I wait until space becomes available. People honk their horns–as though I’m an imbecile–but I prefer that to getting stuck in the middle and blocking traffic when the light changes.

    I think traffic circles/roundabouts/rotaries confuse Americans not only because they are uncommon, but because they don’t all follow the same rules. The ones at Chagrin/Lander, Fairmount/Lander and Shaker/Old Brainard all work pretty normally in that incoming drivers must yield right of way to those already in the circle. The one near where I live at Fairmount/Warrensville is semi-normal except for being bisected by Warrensville and using traffic lights. But the one at 105th and MLK by the V.A. hospital has to be the most imaginative by far. With its varying right of ways, stop signs and light, this circle should only be traversed with the utmost of care.

    Thankfully UCI just had a meeting about reconfiguring this so perhaps in the future it will be more logical.

  6. 6
    Mano Singham

    Heidi,

    Good point about not entering an intersection before you can leave it. That seems so obvious that I cannot understand people who honk because of it. Sometimes I have stopped before an intersection, then when traffic has moved a bit to allow me to get to the other side, I find in the mirror that the car behind me has come and blocked the intersection, even though they must have seen me keeping it clear. What are they thinking?

    You are right that the circle at MLK/VA is a nightmare. Who decided that traffic entering the circle has right of way?

  7. 7
    Ben

    I believe the rationale of the MLK circle is to keep NE-bound traffic on MLK moving. If you drive through from other directions, or do a victory lap sometime, you’ll notice that most of the stops/yields are designed to move the NE/SW MLK traffic through. Circle/MLK SW traffic yielding to mt siani drive (or whatever the road is called) is the one spot that does not make sense to me. That could probably be cured by a couple of guys with replacement signs.

  8. 8
    Anonymous

    But the one at 105th and MLK by the V.A. hospital has to be the most imaginative by far. With its varying right of ways, stop signs and light, this circle should only be traversed with the utmost of care.”

    Because of this “intersection,” I feel I can never give people directions to use MLK, because that junction is so dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing, and even if you do.

    Another fun place: the distance between 55th st. and MLK coming east off the shoreway is so short that you can zip right by MLK without even knowing it. Even after years and years of driving that route.

  9. 9
    Mary

    I think nothing reveals a person more than how they conduct themselves in their car.
    Last year I drove into a gas station to find a woman talking on her cell phone inside her car that was parked in between pumps, thus blocking the use of both pumps. After waiting several minutes I approached her car asking her to either move a bit forward or back.
    Her reaction – well, let’s just say I thought she was going to pull a gun on me. : /

  10. 10
    Jim van Orman

    The problem with traffic circles is that the rules for them vary from place to place, even within Cleveland. In Boston and Washington DC, the rule is that drivers entering the circle must yield to cars in the circle. In Cleveland, circles often have stop signs, and even traffic lights, at the entrances–which seems to me to defeat the whole purpose. In one circle (near the museums of University Circle) it’s the opposite–incoming drivers have the right of way, and circling drivers have to yield. That’s the way it is in Namibia and South Africa as well. It’s no wonder that people become confused.

  11. 11
    Mano Singham

    Yes, uniformity is important. It seems kind of obvious to me that you should yield to traffic already in the circle to get the smoothest flow, and I am not sure why people do other things.

    In Australia there seemed to be no confusion at all.

  12. 12
    Greg L.

    Terminology may be important here: my understanding is that, strictly speaking, a “roundabout” is a situation where cars in the roundabout have the right of way, the main reason being to make sure it never gets more cars in it than it can handle. “Traffic circles” (e.g. Columbus Cilce in New York, NY) are much rarer but are found in large cities, in these, incoming traffic has the right of way. This ensures (hopefully) a smoother flow of traffic. However, these have to be HUGE and even then they clog since there are more cars than there were when they were in vogue. The roundabout rules seem much more logical to me than traffic circle, personally.

  13. 13
    Mano Singham

    Greg,

    I was using the term traffic circle as synonymous with roundabout. I had the vague impression that “roundabout” was used in some coutnries and that “traffic circle” was used in the US. What I was advocating was the roundabout rules.

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