Sunday, October 9, 2011

An A-Z of DC Traffic

This one's for my friends who have moved away and who may be feeling a bit nostalgic for DC life (you know who you are), and for those of you who have never lived in this area. Full disclosure: I had a lot of help from my husband on this one. The germ of the idea was mine, about one third of the alphabet was mine, and the annotations are mine, but the rest is his. This week, we present to you an A-Z of DC traffic.

A is for Accidents, which seem to be especially problematic on the north stretch of the Beltway, around Georgia, Connecticut and New Hampshire Aves. I can count on one hand the number of times I've driven that stretch and not encountered an accident along the way.

B is for Beltway Chaos. Ordinarily sane drivers can become quite aggressive once they merge onto the Beltway. I'm not sure why, unless they're trying to minimize the amount of time they have to spend on it. Or maybe its design was the work of demonic forces (read Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman if you don't get this one).

C is for Construction. Lots and lots of construction. Whole sections of roads and interchanges are unrecognizable now because of a massive "high occupancy toll lane" project that won't be finished until next December. It's a mess.

D is for Diplomats. They have immunity, and many of them drive like it. Fear the State Department license plate!

E is for Emergency Lights. Don't misunderstand me--I'm grateful for our first responders. But pulling over for an emergency vehicle is more difficult when the road is four lanes wide or more and being in the wrong lane after having to merge over means taking a detour or risking your life trying to get back to where you were.

F is for Frightened by Precipitation. I am terrified of winter driving now, not because I don't know what to do, but because most of the other drivers don't know what to do. I've seen cars spin out on half an inch of snow here.

G is for "Greenbeepers," my husband's term for those drivers who are second in line at a green light and honk at the car in front of them the instant it turns green.

H is for HOV, or High Occupancy Vehicle. During rush hour on certain major arteries, you must have at least 2 or 3 (depending on the road) people in your vehicle in order to drive on the road. Violators are fined, and the enforcement can seem predatory at times (like the easy-to-forget-about .10 mile shortcut that connects one of the roads to the beltway).

I is for Increased Blood Pressure. I know I've become much more irritable since we moved here, due in large part to the traffic.

J is for Jerks Everywhere. Seriously, people honk at student drivers here.

K is for Killer Bus Drivers. Think I'm making this one up? Check out this link.

L is for Long Lights. A recent traffic survey revealed that DC area drivers spend in excess of 70 hours each year idling their vehicles in gridlock and at traffic lights, some of which take 4 minutes or longer to cycle. The national "idling" average is 34 hours per year.

M is for Motorcades. When the President, Vice President, or visiting dignitary needs to travel between downtown locations, police cars block key intersections so that the motorcades can pass through. This can take a while, and can happen for any reason, including taking the Vice Presidential dog to the vet for a check-up (Sorry about the source; it was the only one I could find that referenced the original, and apparently unarchived, news article).

N is for Night Milling and Paving. Lots of road work gets done during the overnight hours here.

O is for One-way Streets. Every big city has them, but what makes DC's grid even more frustrating is how many two-way streets turn into one-way streets during rush hour.

P is for Parking Tickets. Steve got one for parking in space that was clearly marked as an acceptable location. The other side of the street was clearly marked as unacceptable. Now we're trying to navigate the contesting process. Fun!

Q is for Quirky, Inconsistent Signage. The signage where Steve parked was clear, but that's not the case everywhere. Check the picture in this article out as an example.

R is for Rush hours...and hours. Morning rush hour here starts around 6:00 and tapers off between 9 and 9:30, although you may still encounter heavy traffic as late as 11. Afternoon rush hour starts around 3 and tapers off around 7. Did I mention we spend 70+ hours a year idling?

S is for Sudden Slowdown. For any reason or sometimes no reason. It makes me appreciate having the sound system controls on the steering wheel, where I don't have to look at them.

T is for Towing. Towing is such a fact of life here that one of our friends actually factors several tows a year into his budget as part of the "cost of living." Towing companies can be predatory, too, hauling your car away within minutes.

U is for Unpredictable Traffic. One local radio station broadcasts traffic reports every 10 minutes. I thought that was ridiculous until we got stuck on I-66 at 11 PM behind an overturned semi. You just never know.

V is for Vans of Illegals. I'm not trying to be racist here, but we have a fair number of hit and run accidents on our roads. Sometimes the person is drunk or oblivious or just can't be bothered to stop, but frequently the offending vehicle is a an older model van with few windows, and the driver doesn't stop because most of those in the van are illegal immigrants who fear deportation if stopped.

W is for Weaving Across Multiple Lanes. Enough said.

X is for Xenomanic Drving Tendencies (we didn't want to resort to the standard X-tra cop-out). Very few people in the DC metro area are actually from this region. Most of us are transplants from other parts of the country, or from other countries, here for a few months or few years. Everyone--New Yorkers, New Englanders, Californians, etc.--drives according to their local road culture. And everyone thinks their way is best.

Y is for Yield! Yield! Look, I'm going to have merge onto this road. We can do this the easy way, with you slowing down just a bit to let me over, or we can do this the hard way, by forcing me to come to a complete stop and really messing up the traffic flow. Oh, I see that you prefer the hard way.

Z is for Zero Room for Error. I've always had quick reflexes, but now my flinch reflex is on permanent hyperdrive. Just ask Steve--I know it drives him crazy.

What are some of your own local traffic quirks? I'd enjoy reading about them. Stay safe out there!

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