Wednesday, September 8, 2010

NY drivers better than DC drivers

The Atlantic's Megan McArdle has an amusing post on DC driving/drivers vs. NY driving/drivers.

I've never driven in DC - as far as I can remember - but being from Long Island I've driving in NY many times. She points out that as crazy as NY drivers are, there is a method to the madness. She contrasts this with DC which has no discernible rules for crazy driving.
There are strong local norms about things like merging, when to slowdown for a yellow light, and so forth, which newcomers are eventually forced to learn.  "Learning to drive like a New Yorker" is a sort of rite of passage, like knowing where to get good bagels.  People who arrive from elsewhere may lament the aggression of New York drivers, but they also recognize that navigating within the system is a skill that must be acquired, and they're a little proud when they master it.
I discovered once that when I enter Manhattan, I unconsciously adjust and prepare my body. Usually I've just been driving relaxed on the LIE. When you come out of the Midtown Tunnel or off the 59th Street Bridge, you have to have to be alert for the maelstrom. I tend to perk up and my eyes take in a lot more of the street than locally at home.

Before reading Megan's piece I thought that Seville drivers were crazy and unpredictable, but now I realize there is actually a set of norms here.

Basically, two-wheeled  vehicles don't have to obey traffic laws. If there's a red light, they can go right through it as long as there's no cross traffic.

Also, you don't have to wait for your light to turn green to go, you just have to wait for the cross traffic light to turn red. This is wonderful for pedestrians who are crossing late. Because the pedestrian walk signal turns red at the same moment the traffic light turns green.

The other problem is that traffic lights here are not suspended above the intersection like in most places in the US. Instead they are on posts on the right side of the road. In the US drivers may be looking straight upwards at the traffic light, but the direction is straight ahead which means you still have peripheral vision both left and right for pedestrians. Here the drivers (especially the motorbikes) keep their eyes fixed on the light and the very second (even before in most cases) it turns green they SLAM on the gas. If you're a pedestrian (or a cyclist like me) coming from the driver's left they never see you.

Also in Seville, if your car fits, you can park it there. The city could generate so much revenue in parking fines if they would just crack down on that.


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