Category Archives: driving courtesy

Those Vermont drivers!

 So I was chatting with a very nice guy at the League of Vermont Writers meeting recently, and when I told him about how we Riders strive to make driving better around here, he immediately responded that Vermont drivers sure need the help because they are awful! You’re not going to believe this, but I was speechless! Here I am feeling as if I’m cheating by hiding out in the land of no traffic jams or people blocking the left lane (mostly because there is no left lane), and thanking my lucky stars every time I hit the road, when I find out that an actual Vermonter thinks that’s insane. Go figure! Oh sure, we’re a little short on passing zones, and there are occasions when you’re going to get stuck behind somebody poking along, especially in fall foliage or ski season, but on the whole, when it comes to irritating driver behavior, Vermont has a severe shortage and that’s the way we like it.

Here’s an example: Last week I was sitting at a red light (yes, we do have a few), the second car back and we were both turning left. I know this because we were both using our left turn signals. There was no green arrow or turning lane, and normally when the light changed we (and the cars behind us) would have waited until all the folks going straight in the opposite direction went by, but not this time. Because the first driver across the way kindly motioned the guy in front of me to hustle on through ahead of him. And the third one did the same for me. You can be sure he got a very enthusiastic cheery wave in return for his exceptional courtesy 🙂 So you can see why in my book, Vermont drivers are AOK!

Thanks, neighbors!


Mother has a dream

Would it be in bad taste to steal, I mean build on, the Rev. Dr. King’s powerful concept? I don’t think so; he seems like the kind of guy who would be glad to share, especially for a good cause. Sure, Mother’s dream is somewhat different from the inspiring dream we celebrate today, but it’s an excellent dream nonetheless. Would you like to hear it? Here goes…

I have a dream that one day all of us will travel together in peace on the roads of America. And I mean ALL of us, from the tiniest pedestrian to the biggest monster truck. Yes, even the bikers, the Hummers and the pokey little Subarus.

I have a dream that safety belts everywhere will be buckled and helmets will be worn every time, not because it’s the law but because we know better, and we are much too responsible to stick our family, friends and emergency responders with the tragic consequences of our carelessness.

I have a dream that we will watch where we’re going, avoid distractions, and absolutely never, ever, text or chat on the phone while we’re driving. or get behind the wheel while impaired.

I have a dream that we will keep our windshields and windows clean, and our mirrors and lights too (and clean means not just dirt, but ice, snow and crap on the dashboard or the back window), because visibility is a key factor in getting there in one piece, without smashing into anyone or anything, and because my Dad, the father of salubrious driving, said so.

I have a dream that drivers will merge in a safe and orderly fashion, and remember to take turns when the situation calls for it (say at lane closures or 4-way stops), that they will refrain from excessive honking and taking up two parking spaces, that they will use their signals when turning or changing lanes and never tailgate or obstruct the traffic behind them. And if it isn’t too much trouble, I’d like them to try not to go too slow or too fast.

I have a dream that we will treat our fellow travelers with patience and courtesy always, greet them with cheery waves occasionally, and never, ever display rude gestures or aggressive behavior.

I have a dream that from I-5 to I-95, I-10 to I-94, US 1 to US 101, the Lincoln Highway to Route 66, all of God’s licensed drivers will travel together in salubrious harmony all the days of our lives, unless we can think of an excuse to just stay home.

And that’s my dream – considerably less grand than the original, but still worth doing. So if you don’t mind, let’s start making my dream come true first thing tomorrow, shall we? Please?

But tonight, I’ll sign off with great thanks and a hearty Happy Birthday to the Reverend Doctor King, may he rest in peace. I like to think of him looking down from heaven and smiling at this wonderful performance by the 4th graders from Watkins Elementary School in Washington, DC (courtesy of PBS NewsHour):

The Zipper Merge: Let’s restore some sanity on the road.

If Jon Stewart says I’m right, and Tom Vanderbilt (the famous author of Traffic) apparently agrees (along with a professional traffic engineer who commented on his post), and CO and MNDOT say I’m right, and a nice blogger named Ed Koehler from Minnesota says I’m right, then I’m right. Right? Right!

OK, I know I covered all this at great length in the book, so let me say right up front that if you’ve got the message already (or have known for years because like many of us you learned to drive that way in the first place) and would rather skip this little review and just get on with your life, please feel free to do that, and you all have a nice day 🙂

But if you’re wondering what’s got the zipper merge bee in Mother’s bonnet again, or you’re just not convinced yet, or you haven’t the slightest clue what the heck I’m talking about, stick around, and I’ll be right back with a great show, I mean blog post.

What’s the Stewart connection? Two things. First, the Stewart/Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear that’s coming up in Washington reminds me that in my experience (although, granted, it was quite some time ago), the DC area is one of those places where drivers’ Moms seem to have forgotten to teach them about taking turns, or maybe they failed to pay attention. Either way, it’s jamming up those lane closure merges, and who needs that? Especially when you’re from out of town and in a big hurry to get to a very special rally. Nobody, that’s who.

Second, thinking about the zipper merge, which happens to be the right way to merge at a congested lane closure, reminds me that Jon Stewart had some words of wisdom on that very topic during a chat with Drew Barrymore not too long ago. Normally, this is where I’d share the video clip, but I’m afraid that some parts are a little too, shall we say, adult for Mother’s wholesome, cheery audience. Or for Mother anyway. So instead I will simply quote the zipper merge portion, which was the highlight of the interview anyway, in my opinion. Here’s what Jon had to say:

Are you an every other car merger, because to me…To me, the hallmark of civilization, and I believe this on its core foundational level, is the every other car merge at tunnels. There is, it’s a, (guest interrupts) no, when you get up to that and there’s like four cars and it goes down to one, and everybody suddenly no matter what, Jew, Muslim, gay, straight, black, white, it doesn’t matter. Everybody just goes I’m next, now you’re next, and it’s like the zipper merge, And it really says to me, this is why we don’t drink the same water we bleep in any more, because we are a civilized society. That’s my theory. (great applause from the audience)

And not only is it civilized, but it’s practical, because in heavy traffic, using both (or all) lanes for as long as you can, then alternating one by one (sort of like a zipper!), is the best way to share the road and keep traffic flowing. Now isn’t that easier and more pleasant than a scenario (we’ve all been there, haven’t we?) that looks like this …

Merging early creates a long line of cars with drivers who are becoming increasingly irritated if not enraged about sitting there, especially when they’re (and they usually are) watching the occasional zipper fan drive by in the nearly empty lane next door. And then there are the few folks who are doing the driving by feeling guilty, never mind absorbing plenty of wicked hate vibes from their neighbors in the next lane, for simply doing the reasonable thing, which is driving in a perfectly good open lane. And finally, we have the occasional extra-irate busybodies who make things worse by blocking the open lane out of a possibly well-intentioned but misguided notion that it’s their job to be road monitors. Is this ugly situation fair to anyone? NO! Can this problem be solved? YES! In some areas they’re posting signs with instructions now, and Mother appreciates that, but once we know the trick, we can do the right thing without being told, now can’t we? Well, sure we can.

So when traffic is light, then go on and merge early because that works just fine. But when the highway is crowded, remember to use those lanes. Then take turns. And let there be peace on the road; it’s the reasonable way to drive.

PS Want to check out my sources? There are geekier ones, but these are my favorites:

Zipper Method Traffic Merging Comprehension Issues, The Deets, Ed KoehlerThe Zipper Merge and Civil Society, How We Drive blog, Tom Vanderbilt
(especially the comments, the post itself is the JS quote)


Traffic news around the world

Let’s start with the bad news. Well, bad news if you’re driving a truck on the Beijing-Tibet highway. If like most of us you’re not, and you were looking for a reason to count your blessings today, this would be a good one. It’s taking these poor guys over a week to go 60 miles, sometimes making less than a third of a mile in a day. I read about this in the Wall Street Journal, and would include a link to the article and photos, but the WSJ is getting grubby about sharing their stuff online. Too bad. Lucky for us, the Christian Science Monitor is much more generous. Check out the amazing photos: China’s huge traffic jam, as well as a full report that notes the jam seems to have mysteriously disappeared (China traffic jam vanishes overnight?), just like they do here in the USA. Except that here it doesn’t usually take a week, or even overnight. Sometimes we even get home in time for a late dinner. Does that make you feel any better about the hour or two here and there you spend sitting in traffic? I didn’t think so.

But we can cheer up! Because world traffic news is not all bad. A delightful group in England, called FiT (for filter in turn) is promoting the notion (and with good reason, apparently) that traffic lights (which their spokesman compares to multi-colored acne) are entirely more trouble, congestion-wise, than they’re worth, safety-wise. And they have good evidence in the form of towns in Sweden and England where the lights have been eliminated with great success. It’s all based on the concept that without all the useless and irritating interference of traffic controls, most drivers are naturally quite courteous and cooperative. And safe. As are the pedestrians and bicyclists around them. That they can and do figure out how to take turns and move along nicely. Are you thinking this too good to be true? That my Pollyanna side is making up a charming little fairy story? No, seriously, here’s the YouTube video to prove it:

And here’s the one about Portishead, the town in England where the traffic-light free trial went so well that they decided to made it permanent:

Maybe we should give it a try over here? I think it’s a lovely idea, don’t you?

Mother Says: when to honk at other drivers

Here it is practically February already, and still I haven’t shared the good news from from my terrific New Years visit to NYC with the family, so here we go: I am happy and astonished to report that it was oddly quiet and peaceful, for New York. Would you like to know why? Look …

Yes, signs that threaten a $350 fine for honking are posted prominently all over the city. Great idea, New York! Horns do have a purpose, but annoying everyone within earshot because another driver is annoying you is not it! To quote Mother Rider (by way of an excerpt from Riders on the Road: How to Laugh More and Rage Less with The Rider Method):

Save your horn to alert your fellow motorists to danger,
not that you’re mad. They really don’t care and it’s annoying to the others around you.

And to quote a genuine New Yorker, Irwin Arieff (in an excerpt from Congestion Honking, The New York Sun, April 11, 2008):

Horns were invented to help prevent accidents, not to give people migraines.

Mind you the law doesn’t prohibit honking ever, only in a non-emergency situation, which in my view is just right. Lord knows, who among us doesn’t need the occasional helpful reminder that we’re about to smear someone in our blind spot while making a theoretically innocent lane change? Or backing up into one of those invisible posts or short little cars or worse yet, people? By all means there are times when we need those horns and need them immediately! Which is why I hate that they’re in different spots in different vehicles, but that’s a subject for another post.

For now, let me just be clear that Mother R approves of the honking ordinance in New York, and others in cities like Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, San Antonio and many more (check the article link above for the complete list). Because while she still believes that they ought to be unnecessary because we ought to be smart enough to know better anyway, she must admit that at least in New York they have made a big difference. So despite Mr. Arieff’s contention that the city can and should become even quieter with increased enforcement, she is grateful to the many New Yorkers who comply for a more pleasant visit as compared to the constant deafening noise she remembers from the last time she was there many years ago.

Thank you, New York!

And for you honkers (especially the ones who are doing it to urge the car in front of you to block the intersection) and you honkees who are intimidated by the bullies behind you into blocking the box although you know better, stop it right now, both of you! To quote once again from Riders on the Road: How to Laugh More and Rage Less with The Rider Method:

Don’t ever block the intersection. I’m sorry you’re stuck in traffic, but it’s not their fault and you’re not allowed to punish them for it.

And from Mr. Arieff, the New Yorker (quoting from Congestion Honking again):

honking creates congestion by pressuring drivers to
“block the box” – to zip into an intersection, rather than wait.

But once again, New York comes to the rescue with helpful signs everywhere that threaten a fine and points on your license for bad box blocking behavior. Like this…

Don't Block the BoxCombined with actual boxes painted on the street to define the intersection, these signs and the penalties that go along with them are supposed to reduce traffic congestion. Do they work? Sadly, no, at least so far as I was able to observe. Come on, New Yorkers, you can do better than that! And don’t think you folks who live elsewhere are exempt from Mother’s orders just because you don’t have signs and boxes painted on your streets. You know better.

Let’s recap, shall we? These are the two simple rules for today, rules we will observe every day:
  • No unnecessary honking!
  • No intersection blocking!
Isn’t it lovely to be nagged about something other than distracted driving for a change?
You’re welcome!