Traffic Rivers, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Roundabout

Traffic hits you no matter what. It's literally the third-lowest common denominator in current human existence, right behind sex and gastroenterology (that's pooping!), but like the other two most-binding pieces of human existence, I think it is so misunderstood that turning out mentalities over on it a bit couldn't hurt (berate me in the comments, I don't mind).

While all forms of travel have their ups and downs, I think the most problematic is personal car travel. The whole system for vehicular travel is set up to help the motorist get to where they want to go easily and efficiently, and yet, even with human beings' pack mentality, it's one of the most confounding and dangerous areas of society.

It kills about the same amount of Americans every year as the entire number of U.S. deaths in the Vietnam War, and though the numbers and statistics show those numbers going down, it's really hard to notice that reduction when you're actually on the road.

I've always thought it was because of the selfishness inherent in getting into an enclosed space to get somewhere. When you're walking on the sidewalk, you have to engage. There's very little you can do against it; you can't just bump into everyone you see. It helps no one, it slows you down and everyone around you, holding up the entire progress of civilization by a few seconds. At least in that sense, vehicle traffic and pedestrian traffic are the same. You don't just plow through everyone on the road in a vehicle to try to get where you're going, and you don't do that on the sidewalk (but at a party, it's perfectly acceptable if you're going to do a cannonball in the pool, and at a concert with a mosh pit, it's actually encouraged). But that's where the similarities end.

In pedestrian dynamics, people try to avoid each other while still saying “Hello!” or possibly acknowledging each others existence with a nod or a smile. Even slickly side-stepping out of the way is, if not polite form of acknowledgment, it still shows the other person knows you're there. Not so in a vehicle.

We are so far removed from other people in vehicles we tend to blame the damn car make and model rather than the driver (I knew I hated Audi for a reason). That's how far the mental disassociation runs. When I first moved to Boston three years ago, I thought I was driving in a mad house. Now I'm not too bad a driver, only totaled one car – not totally my fault but I'm not going to get into it here – but this was absolute craziness. I wouldn't say it was overwhelming, but it was surprising how much the actual traffic flow moved and what the differences in road rules were as opposed to my suburban upbringing.

And I think that has to do with traffic enforcement in the suburbs inhibiting otherwise harmless but still technically illegal action. In the suburbs or country, if you roll through a stop sign or rush a red light when no one else is there, a cop is going to pull you over just so he or she can keep up their quota. It makes people follow the rules regardless of whether or not it's helping the system, the flow of traffic and the driver's own journey efficiency. It's most distressing when there's something wrong with the timing mechanism at a lighted intersection and you just sit there, sometimes for like five or 10 minutes, wondering if it's ok to go (terrible if you happen to be prone to paranoia). It is ok. Those signals are there to keep you safe, if you feel safe to roll through them, that's your call.

In the city, it's a totally different matter. Cops have shit to do in a city, and they rarely pull you over for traffic violations, as real crime takes precedence. For instance, for the first two of the three years I was here in Boston, I never got inspected. Never got bothered about it either. You roll through a stop sign and get pulled over, well, you might have a history or you might've done something to piss off that cop or you might be the wrong color, but I've never seen someone pulled over for speeding or minor traffic violations within the city limits of the City of Boston. Please tell me if I'm wrong in the comments section below (I would also point out that parking enforcement goes exactly the opposite way, you can park anywhere in the suburbs risking a ticket and almost never get one, and that works in Providence too, now that I think about it).

Anyway, this lack of minor enforcement has led Boston to be, in my opinion, one of the most efficient vehicular traffic systems in the country. We have winding paths, rotaries, one-ways, and if you're not familiar with them you could get driven up shit creek. But the existence of alternate routes, side streets and weird intersections has led to a spirit of independence that helps everyone get around in the most efficient way possible for the horrible roads and intersections we have here.

Did that dick just take a left turn way too quickly while you, coming in the opposite direction, had to stop for three seconds to let him go left, while you, going straight, had the right-of-way? Think about it. He or she just saved themselves at least a minute of waiting through everyone behind you going first and lessened the impact on everyone behind those on the opposite side. That's efficiency. As long as the traffic is moving, everyone benefits. 

It's a system, and really if everyone thought in that way, we could make individual vehicle travel more like rail systems. Doesn't it just piss you off when someone doesn't start at least moving when the light goes green? You imagined at least once that if everyone paid attention and went when the light went green, more people could make it through each cycle (Also put down the damn phone, you're driving!).

It's the same on a highway. Someone brakes too quickly, everyone behind them slows down and suddenly there's a clusterfuck of a parking lot on the highway. Don't brake unnecessarily, that's my advice. 

But we're always: “Here in my car, I feel safest of all, I can lock all my doors, it's the only way to live.” That disconnection will be going away in a few years when driver-less cars become the norm, but we should all remember there are people behind the wheel, and you have to judge your actions on what you think of them, what you think of their car choice, what you think they'll do and what's best for you and the immediate cars around you. If you let this one asshole in, will the assholes behind them just squeak right on by, screwing you and everyone behind you? Did your good intention just fuck up half a dozen people's day? It's definitely something to think about (seriously, you're driving, put down the damn phone Kevin!).

Just something to think about when you're driving: you have to judge your actions on what you think of the other drivers, what you think of their car choice, what you think they'll do and what's best for you and the immediate cars around you. It's not about you, it's about the system and if we all try to make the system better, we all get where we're going in the fastest and easiest way possible.

“Remember, I'm pulling for ya, we're all in this together,”

Red Green