Here’s Your Traf­fic Fix!

Drive Like New York­ers

The Washington Post Sunday - - Close To Home - — Bob Guldin

W hile state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments are con­tem­plat­ing spend­ing bil­lions of dol­lars to keep traf­fic mov­ing on the crowded roads of metropoli­tan Wash­ing­ton, the re­gion’s trans­porta­tion gu­rus are ig­nor­ing a fast, cheap so­lu­tion that would help traf­fic right now: Teach Wash­ing­to­ni­ans to drive bet­ter.

Too many of us drive as if we live in a small South­ern city, or, worse, some crowded Third World mega­lopo­lis with goats in the road. Well, we don’t. We live in a mod­ern Amer­i­can city. It’s time to drive like you mean it.

In short: Drive more like a New Yorker. When I learned how to drive in New York City in the 1960s, I was trained to be fast, ef­fi­cient and de­ci­sive. If Wash­ing­to­ni­ans could drive like that, it would be the equiv­a­lent of adding a lane to the Belt­way — at zero cost!

At this point you might be think­ing: I’d love to drive like a mer­ci­less New Yorker, but how can I do that?

Here’s the key. Don’t drive to in­flict pain; drive to get there. Fol­low th­ese 10 sim­ple rules of en­gage­ment to keep traf­fic mov­ing faster:

1. Don’t rub­ber­neck. How many times have you been de­layed by rubes cran­ing their necks at some fender ben­der? “Golly, Martha, that was ter­ri­ble.” What do you get out of star­ing at some bro­ken glass? Get a life. Keep mov­ing.

2. Know the right of way — take the right of way. The main flow of traf­fic takes prece­dence over some­one pulling in from a side road or drive­way. Don’t wait for them to move into your right­ful place — keep mov­ing. At a four-way stop, if you got there first, you go first. If you got there at the same time, the driver on the right goes first.

3. Don’t block the box. Sit­ting in the mid­dle of an in­ter­sec­tion block­ing cross-traf­fic is stupid, rude and il­le­gal. It can lead to true grid­lock, which means you’ll never get out of that in­ter­sec­tion. It’ll serve you right. This brings to mind a hid­den truth of smart ur­ban driv­ing: Let­ting traf­fic move around you ac­tu­ally ben­e­fits you — as long as no­body is cut­ting you off.

4. Case in point: When you’re turn­ing, pull far enough into the in­ter­sec­tion to let the cars be­hind you pass around you. You gain noth­ing from block­ing those cars. Plus, by an­gling into the turn you let your car’s “body lan­guage” sig­nal where you’re go­ing, which helps ap­proach­ing driv­ers.

5. Speak­ing of turns: When mak­ing a left turn, and a car fac­ing you is also mak­ing a left turn, turn in front of the other car, so you don’t block each other’s turns. This is not quan­tum me­chan­ics.

6. Keep your at­ten­tion on the road. The latest stud­ies show that dis­tracted driv­ers are bad driv­ers. Turn off the cell­phone. Ap­ply the makeup at home. Drive time is no time to mul­ti­task.

7. In stop-and-go traf­fic, drive smoothly to even out the flow. Speed­ing up to 40 mph and then slam­ming on the brakes makes the traf­fic jam worse. There are stud­ies that show this.

8. Stop signs are not for­ever. When you get to a stop sign, stop for one sec­ond and, if you’re not go­ing to hit any­one, then go.

9. Drive de­fen­sively. There are lots of bad or wasted driv­ers on the road.

10. Plan your trips to com­bine er­rands. Do you re­ally want to bat­tle traf­fic for 40 min­utes to buy gro­ceries and then do the same thing an hour later to re­turn that video?

With luck, if you fol­low th­ese rules, your smart, ef­fi­cient driv­ing will be con­ta­gious and we’ll all spend less time in traf­fic.



Should Belt­way com­muters and other Wash­ing­ton driv­ers take cues from Mid­town cab­bies?

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