Smile Politely

The Least You Can Do: Traffic edition

Whether you’re a C-U virgin or not, traffic is a thing we all have to deal with.

Alright, so obviously the least I could do is write this damn column I began (with such good intentions) at the beginning of this year. Apologies to all ten of my readers, and I’ll try to keep it a bit more regular. Here goes…

Traffic. It’s a thing we have to deal with. We spend a lot of time in our cars, and a lot of that time is spent surrounded by other people who don’t want to be in their cars. But instead of solidarity in our misery (or at least in our apathy), we’re often confrontational right out of the gate. For some reason we assume that no one on the road could possibly have more pressing matters than us. As a rule, we’re dicks in traffic. Has it always been like this? Well, probably. We like to put on the rose-colored glasses and reminisce about the glory days of our country when everyone was courteous to everyone else and America was on the right track. Careful inspection of theories like this usually result in proof that every generation has always looked fondly on those previous to it and with disdain at the state of the generations following it. Traffic dicks have existed since traffic has existed, to be certain. We do have a lot more people out there these days, though,  and we’re much more distracted  nowadays.

Regardless of its origins or the factors that contribute to it, I am consistently baffled at just how dickish we are to each other on the road. Not surprised; just baffled. And so I offer to you some of the easiest things in the world that you can do to improve the lives of random strangers around you. Some were taught to me by my extremely awesome parents and grandparents, and some have been cultivated from years of being analytically (key root of “anal”) observant.

#1: When you find yourself at a red light and you’re in a lane where you’ll be going straight, but your lane also holds people who could be turning on that red, SCOOT UP.

Pretty sure it was my dad who first taught me this, but I’ve noticed that it’s pretty common in my family and I just do it reflexively. When approaching a red where I’ll be one of the first couple of cars, I just automatically hug the left line and scoot as far up as possible. It doesn’t hurt me one bit, but it might benefit one or more people behind me greatly. When there isn’t a right-turn lane, there is sometimes still plenty of space for two cars in that lane. Think about the times you’ve been stuck behind someone who has several feet of space to give you (when all you need is one or two), but who is oblivious to it. Surely they can see you inching up, can’t they? It’s the universal signal for “god damn it, if you would just give me a little more space!” Even when there is a right-turn lane, sometimes you’ll find yourself in a spot that can impede people from entering it. I see this happen a lot when eastbound on University, with people turning south onto Lincoln. It’s a short turn lane that people obliviously block. You know what else is right there? That Dairy Queen drive-thru exit, which brings us to…

#2: Let the guy in.

You know what I’m talking about. He’s just sitting there while twenty cars go by. The exit he’s utilizing is right by the intersection, so cars are perpetually in the road. He’s completely stuck and at the mercy of your kindness. Stop acting like he’s a homeless guy with a sign. Think about a time when you’ve been stuck waiting for an opening that will never appear and then create one for him. If more cars are behind him, it’s up to you. I say let ’em all out.

#3: You know that crosswalk downtown? Stop coming to a stop on top of it.

All crosswalks, generally, but I’m not sure I’ve ever been around this one and not seen someone just nonchalantly sit on top of the thing while waiting for the red light to change. Inevitably, there is a man with a stroller or a pregnant woman or an elderly couple trying to cross that now has to walk around said car. It’s a busy spot, and the east side of the street is basically blind thanks to some shrubbery, so approach slowly. If you realize that your car would sit on the crosswalk if you pulled up behind the next car, just stop before the giant white line. Hell, even if you have room on the other side, just stop there anyway. Lord knows the people behind you aren’t likely to do it, so just make the decision for them.

Pedestrian bonus round! If you happen upon this crosswalk when the light to the south is green, don’t just run out in the damn street. If someone is waving you on, go for it, but here’s one of those situations where a little teamwork comes in handy.  And speaking of that area…

#4: Stop doing this:

There are signs telling you not to do it for a reason. It’s a fairly blind exit and when you come blazing out of there, you’re either going to cause an accident or give someone a heart attack as they slam on their brakes. I wish there was a “severe tire damage” strip here.

#5: Use Your Turn Signals

Why is this so goddamn hard? Changing lanes? Let people know with that little flashy thing that was designed to do so. Is the reason you’re hitting your brakes because you’re about to turn? Let the people behind you know that those sudden brake lights aren’t because of some hazard ahead. At a two-way or four-way stop with other cars? Let them know your intentions and things will go much more smoothly. The number of times I’ve started going straight at the same time as the signal-less car across from me has, only to have the person start to cross for a left turn and then yell at me or flip me off as if I was supposed to magically intuit that he/she was going to turn is depressing. I’ve seen online conversation where people say things like, “I only use turn signals when I know that it will benefit another car around me.” Here are the two problems that stem from that: a) If you get used to not doing it sometimes, it’ll likely start happening more often. b) You can’t possibly always know who around you needs that information. Turn signals are not only helpful for other cars, but also for cyclists and pedestrians who are also making decisions based on the information you’re giving them. Maybe that runner wouldn’t have darted out in front of you if she had known that you were turning into that lane. It’s such an easy thing, but somewhere along the line people stopped doing it.

#6: Stop trying to reorganize the parking structure.

Come on, guy.

#7: Think about the circumstances that have led to you rushing somewhere and about the fact that none of the people you’re encountering had anything to do with those circumstances.  

It never fails that when I’m running late, I find myself at an intersection where a man on foot is hauling a couple of kids slowly through the crosswalk. Or there is a little kid meandering across on her bicycle. Inevitably I find myself thinking, “does that kid have to be here right now?!?” What a stupid thing to think. It’s not the kid’s fault that you’re running late. It’s yours. So shut up.

#8: Abide by the courtesy-wave rule.

A lot of this stuff is actually the law or at the very least just the decent thing to do, yes, but if you happen to be the recipient of someone being nice, you throw up the courtesy wave to acknowledge. You shouldn’t have to, I guess, but I always find it nice to let the person know that you are simpatico. Takes nothing and helps to reinforce this behavior in people.

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