Thursday, February 08, 2007
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
One of the things about living in any city is learning to deal with the traffic. I learned how to drive in Fort Worth and Dallas – and though the two cities are rather different, and Fort Worth driving is (mostly) much more laid back, the two had enough similarity that it wasn’t overly wacky to switch between the two.
Then I moved to Houston.
Houston drivers are not at all like Dallas drivers. People in Dallas want to DriveFastNow and RightOnYourBumper! Speed limit 60 = drive 80+. If they need to change lanes, they assume you will move out of THEIR way, and just change lanes come hell or high water. The highways through downtown are 5 and 6 lanes wide at spots and can be downright frightening if you’re not used to the roller-coaster like flow of traffic.
Perhaps it’s that there are more cops in Houston; perhaps it’s because the only major north/south thoroughfare is only 2 lanes wide in downtown (yes, you read that right) so they are used to going slowly – but people on most major highways in Houston drive close to the speed limit. If it’s posted at 60, you might go 64 or 65, but most people don’t speed much more than that except for the occasional wacko. However, they do exercise their right to go slower than the speed limit at any time, in any lane, and to blindly change lanes while doing so. This means that you, happily cruising along in the left hand lane going 63 may just get cut off by a guy in a 20 year old land yacht driving 45, just because he can.
People also seem to exercise their right to stop whenever they feel like it. “Hey look! A thing!” [brakelights] Accident on the other side of the road? [brakelights] Heck – the rubbernecking traffic can be *worse* than the actual traffic from the accident. Heaven forbid there’s someone pulled over on either side too. [brakelights] Flashing lights of any kind, even just a road-repair truck? [brakelights] This turns into large highways with a few right lane (non suicide) exits going 35 miles an hour just because some guy thought he saw a rabbit over in the grass and wanted to slow down and look.
And merging? Or large highway exits? There are actually signs next to the big Exit 43b Kirby Road, Mario Kart Parkway signs that say “Slow/Merging traffic ahead. Be prepared to stop”. You’d think that people would figure out, driving into the city and out of the city, day in, day out, that if they want to exit to go onto that other highway they need to get into one of the exit lanes to do it. It’s not rocket science to say “Gee – last time I drove on this road I cut off two little old ladies and a soccermom because I had to turn squealing across traffic to get into the proper exit lane, causing a 4 hour slowdown from people slamming on their breaks. I should get into that lane now.”
The other odd Houston phenomenon that I’ve seen is the “metered on-ramp”. In heavy traffic, there is a little stop-light-thing that tells you when to get on the highway, spacing out the entering cars in an attempt to get people to merge properly. Merge is not a Houstonian word, however. All these “metered on-ramps” have done is create the urge in people to drive up on the on-ramp (acceleration ramp/lane) of a major highway that is busy and moving at 60 or 65 miles an hour… and stop.
Hard brake, peering over their shoulders, at a dead standstill 20 yards from the oncoming traffic – even if they happen to have their own lane. Last I checked, they called it an acceleration ramp so you would SPEED UP from your piddly 40 mph frontage-road speed so that you wouldn’t end up as roadkill and cause the opposite side of traffic to stop dead from rubbernecking.
Of course, after having driven through rush hour traffic (which starts at 3 in the afternoon and can last until 7) for two years, back and forth from Waco, none of this was particularly noticeable. Not that I didn’t have my fair share of wackos, but I didn’t really put my finger on just what was different until everyone was here in Houston for the wedding. All these Dallas drivers confused because their idea of “driving rules of engagement” had been thrown out the window for a new set of (equally intangible) road rules. But they survived, as far as I know – no accidents, and only small frustrations.
Which is, I guess, all this is. So pardon the ranting. I’m going to go knit.