West Meets East

A Western man travels East in search of love, opportunity and happiness.

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Name:Michael Strickland

This blog chronicles my adventures as I leave my native California and travel east to northern Virginia to start a new life. I can only imagine the funny stories I'll recount here as I experience a wildly different climate, culture and way of life.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Impressions from the Road

My original purpose for this blog was to document differences between the West and East. One of the most noticeable of these so far has been the roadways and traffic here in the East. After only a couple of weeks, I have gained a new respect for California’s roadways and transportation management. Each day, I find a new example of how inferior Virginia’s road system is. Here are just a few:

Road Grid: There’s not a single straight road out here. North-south arteries change to east-west seemingly at whim, and major parkways (no “freeways” out here) often go in circles. You might turn on a road that seems to be going the right way, but it will soon meander around into the opposite direction. My excellent navigational sense normally helps me to find my way intuitively, but that hasn’t kept me from getting lost several times out here.

Nomenclature: I don’t know who named the roads out here, but I think they were drinking heavily when they did so. The same road can change names several times within a few miles, and major roads can confuse you with similar-sounding names (“Lee Highway” parallels “Lee Jackson Highway,” for example).

Traffic Flow: One of the hallmarks of California roadways is safety. Prominent signs and striping clearly spell out traffic flow to avoid dangerous confusion. More importantly, traffic flow makes common sense, so when signage is lacking, it’s still clear how traffic should flow. Not so out here. On any given 3-lane highway, the leftmost or rightmost lane might suddenly become left-or right-turn-only without warning. Little allowance is given to merging lanes on highways, with the net effect of people often coming to a full stop when trying to merge into high-speed traffic. At a busy four-way stop near my home, two lanes become one straight-through lane and one right-turn-only lane, despite the fact that (1) two lanes continue straight beyond the stop sign, and (2) there is ample room for a third, right-turn-only lane.

Traffic Laws: Not surprisingly, traffic laws are quite strict out here. To avoid ridicule from those of you familiar with my driving habits, I won’t editorialize on this subject. Just the facts: Flicking your high beams is illegal, whether you’re doing so to tell the slowpoke in front of you to get out of the way, or warning oncoming traffic about a speed trap you just passed. Radar detectors are illegal. And if you're caught speeding more than 20 mph over the speed limit, you’ll earn a misdemeanor reckless driving citation.

Capacity: Fortunately, my commute is short, so I don’t spend time on the highways during rush hour (I turned down a much higher-paying job offer to avoid this). But from all I’ve heard, rush hour on these roads is hell. Unlike California, however, they have ample land to expand the highways with more lanes. And between the tolls and high taxes levied on auto registration, it seems like there’s enough money to do so. Yet the major highway into D.C. has only two lanes, and they have to make those lanes carpool-only during rush hour just to keep them moving at a brisk 10 mph. It seems as though they want to preserve the rural character of the highways despite reality.

Dumb Traffic Lights: I should start carrying a newspaper or other reading material with me, because I frequently enjoy 5-minute breaks from driving whenever I come to a red light. Apparently Virginia doesn’t have the smart traffic lights that California installs, which detect the presence or quantity of cars and adjust the timing of their red/green lights accordingly. Here, it typically takes five minutes or more for an intersection to cycle through. So when I just miss the green light, or if there’s a backup at an intersection that keeps me from getting through on the first cycle, I spend lots of time waiting. And since most “highways” here are basically large roads that go through populated areas, I encounter traffic lights virtually everywhere I go.

Mind you, these are only my first impressions. I’m sure I’ll grow to love driving in northern Virginia.


CJ said...

You'd be the first, Baby! No one loves driving around D.C.!

9:52 PM  
underwaterangel said...

Amen to that sister! Or Philly. And try The Shore in South Jersey in the summer....

2:41 PM  

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