Wednesday, August 19, 2015

California Driving

Here is a busy Los Angeles Freeway, the 405, which runs north from the city's west side to the San Fernando Valley and south toward San Diego.  The 405 pretty much functions as a parking lot at all hours, every day of the week.

There is at least one ritual drivers need to understand before attempting to travel on freeways like the 405.  That is how to get on the freeway.

Getting on the Freeway

In less-populated areas, drivers simply drive to a marked on-ramp and enter the freeway.  This never happens in Los Angeles

In Los Angeles, freeway ramps are crowded, and so are the side streets leading to freeway ramps.  

The usual procedure is to get in the line of cars leading to the freeway ramp and inch your way forward.  In many cases, there will be 10 or more cars ahead of you.

As you approach the entry ramp you will notice many cars speeding in the lane beside your line until they get right near freeway entrance, at which point their drivers activate their turn signals and cut into the line.  Almost half of all cars enter Los Angeles freeways in this manner.

(The same thing happens as you approach a freeway exit.  Your long line to the off-ramp will be cut repeatedly by important drivers who don't have as much time to wait as you do.  This will make exiting the freeway take twice as you think it will.)

I read once that this long-line-plus-cut-in business makes freeways more efficient.  That may be so, but it's annoying to say the least.  It also may explain why LA laws forbid loaded guns in the passenger compartments of vehicles. 

HOV Lanes

California's traffic wizards originated the idea of encouraging people to double up when traveling by setting aside HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes on the far left lanes of freeways for cars carrying two or more two or more passengers.  The plan was to reduce the number of cars on the road.  Here is the concept.

This innovation has been copied in other states and Canada. You may have seen HOV lanes on freeways in your state.  

Last weekend the Significant Other and I took the 405 freeway/parking lot south to visit friends in San Diego.  Since there were two of us, we took advantage of the HOV lane.  Here is how it looked.  

As was the case on our drive, the HOV lane on the far left of the freeway was in many spots more crowded than the other lanes.  Hmm.

(Now legislators are talking about further initiatives to reduce traffic.  These include more busses, more trains, more HOV lanes, more access to HOV lanes for fuel-sipping cars and the like.  We'll see how that works.)

City Streets

In California it is legal to make a right turn after stopping at a red traffic signal.  You are not required to sit at the light until the signal turns green.

People from the East, where turning right on red is almost universally banned, are intrigued and then charmed by this opportunity.  Until they learn to act on it, however, they are harassed by multiple honking horns from the cars behind them.

California is also the home of the California stop.  When a California driver reaches a stop sign, the usual procedure is to slow down, then drive past the sign.  I first made a California stop in my teen years when I had a learner's permit and was driving with my father.  Unfortunately this happened in the state of Oregon.  This earned me my first traffic violation. 


Los Angeles for many years was famed -- or perhaps defamed -- for its enforcement of pedestrian crossing laws.  If you crossed an empty street against the light or not in a marked crosswalk, you got a ticket. 

For a few years in the early part of this century, the police department lightened up on this enforcement, to the delight of jaywalking New Yorkers in town for visits.  (Jaywalking is a public sport in eastern states.)

Recently, I read that the LAPD has returned to its old ways.  Since a jaywalking ticket can set a pedestrian back $200, it's probably just as well to cross streets when the light says you can.

Another interesting thing -- very different from East Coast practices anyway -- is that Los Angeles drivers stop for pedestrians.  When a walker steps a foot off a curb, all the cars in both directions come to a stop and wait until the pedestrian crosses the road.  Even people who are not infirm old ladies or unattended children get this deference.  

Visitors from New York are always surprised by this, which happens only rarely there.  In fact, New York City drivers, especially taxi drivers, seem to have adopted the California stop with unfortunate results; more than half the traffic deaths in the city are of pedestrians hit by cars.

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