When it comes to transportation,
metro Detroit is a great psychological experiment. In order to get anywhere, you need a car. So anybody who can afford to has to drive. In other cities, people can board trams, trains, subways, streetcars, and light rail vehicles. People who aren’t much good at driving simply choose not to. But here, you either have a whip or you’re on the “loser cruiser.” (Sorry, Gary Winslow.)
As a result, everybody is on the road, even if they don’t want to be there, or have no idea how to properly use a motor vehicle. Given that fact, I believe we do pretty well. But there are at least 10 things that make me wish we had a solid rapid transportation system to drain off some of the less talented motorists. Here are some complaints:
1) Doing the speed limit in the hammer lane
Habitat: The Lodge
Typical model: Buick Century
The left lane is there for a reason: It’s for the person who’s willing to risk getting a ticket to go faster than everybody else. Now, I may not want to be the fastest asshole on the road, but I will defend to the death somebody else’s right to be that asshole. So I often find myself wondering what motivates people to drive in the left lane at the speed limit. Do they think they’re doing their public duty to balk speeders? Are they simply oblivious that the left lane is simply not for them? Do they not see the drivers merging into slower traffic, carefully passing them, and then retaking the left lane and gunning it until they’re a dot on the horizon? Why, people? Why?
2) The 10-mile-per-hour cruiser
Typical model: Dodge Caravan
On the other end of the spectrum is that person who seems to drive everywhere at 10 miles per hour, usually in a minivan. I can understand if there are plenty of potholes to dodge or it’s a crowded street with children running in front of your tires, but … seriously? Is something wrong with your car? Is your seat too far back for your foot to press down on the accelerator properly? I often find myself narrating advice for these drivers, saying, “That’s it. Easy does it. Not too fast there. That’s right, slow it down a bit.”
3) The not-so-talented parallel parker
Typical model: Toyota Tercel
This motorist may never have successfully parallel parked before, but why not make that first attempt on a fully parked-up one-way street? As the years go by, when you round a corner and see this guy up ahead, you learn to reverse and take another street. Why? Because it’s psychologically irritating to watch him try and fail. From that first false moment when he doesn't turn the wheels enough, or the opening of the second act when he doesn't straighten them out, you can tell this is going to be a while. Best of all is when a driver spends the better part of a minute trying to wedge into that spot, only to leave because he finally realized there was a fire hydrant there after all.
4) Never heard of the “acceleration lane”
Typical model: Honda Civic
It’s called the “acceleration lane” for a reason: You step on the gas at the top of the ramp so that you’re traveling at roughly the speed of traffic by the time you get to the end. This should be common knowledge, right? And yet, every so often, we see somebody tootling down the ramp at about 35 miles per hour only to be shocked — shocked! — that the traffic is too fast to merge with. Often, not knowing what else to do, they stop — even though the drivers behind them are speeding down the ramp hoping to merge with something other than their rear bumper. This is a recipe for disaster.
5) Stopping at the end of the exit ramp
Typical model: Toyota Prius
As outrageous as this sounds, we’ve seen it. The stop signs at the end of an exit ramp are, of course, for the traffic on the service drive. They’re generally shielded from drivers on the ramp, but every once in a while a motorist will catch a glimpse of that big red octagon and come to a screeching halt just as freeway traffic is pouring up behind them. At this point, a chorus of horns will harmonize with screeching rubber, the air fills with curses, and one sheepish driver gets going again. (If he’s lucky!)
6) Pulling across three or more lanes of traffic to exit
Habitat: The Lodge south of I-94 — and anywhere else on any freeway, especially I-696
Typical model: Dodge Magnum
OK, I’m usually ready for this one. Coming south on the Lodge, I’m aware that a certain amount of drivers will try to enter from I-94 and illegally slash across the road to take the Warren-Forest exit off the Lodge. Heck, I leave room for them. I’ve committed that sin before myself, so at least there I’m prepared for it. But when you’re driving in the hammer lane — correct me if I’m wrong, but — aren’t there generally plenty of signs that tell you when your desired exit is a few miles away? Aren’t drivers supposed to gradually make some lane changes, slowing down a bit as they move to the right, until they are in the appropriate lane to make their exit? Do I remember that from driver training? If so, why do I see people sometimes careen across several lanes of traffic, almost hitting cars, to make that exit at top speed? Is that really necessary?
7) Using the left-turn signal only when it doesn’t matter anymore
Typical model: Pontiac Grand Am
You are coming up to a red light at an intersection and there is one car in front of you. You pull up snugly to that car’s bumper and wait for traffic to resume, so you can proceed down the road. The light turns green, and opposing traffic starts coursing through, but the car in front of you doesn’t move. Cars start moving around you on the right, but you can’t join them, since you’re snugged up on this motionless car’s rear end. You offer a polite honk. The driver in front of you answers this sonic question by turning on his left-turn signal. You are, essentially, trapped until opposing traffic clears and this ding-a-ling turns. You might be stuck at the light for another cycle. And you will never, ever again pull up so close to a car at a light again. In fact, you will leave a one-car length between you and that car forevermore.
8) Playing chicken with semis
Typical model: Ford Super Duty Pickup
This is just idiotic, and I wouldn’t believe it happened unless I saw it myself. A guy driving a big, red pickup truck felt insulted by a semi changing lanes and getting in front of him. He gunned his engine, got in front of the truck, and jammed on his brakes for a moment. Now, I know that not everybody is a physics major, but this is stupid for so many reasons. Even the biggest pickup truck is no match for a semi. Maybe the driver of the pickup truck thought he’d give the semi trucker a good scare. He almost certainly did. But had that gearjammer’s reflexes been a bit off, you can bet one owner of a red truck would become a corpse in a crumpled metal coffin. And that’s to say nothing of causing a truck to jackknife or overturn, potentially injuring many more people. What the fuck is wrong with people?
9) Gunning out first at a tricky four-way-stop
Habitat: Lower Oakland County
Typical model: White work van
Hey, I get it. It’s so hard to remember which way you yield when several cars stop simultaneously at a four-way stop. For a long time, I couldn’t recall whether it was left or right. (It’s right.) But even though I was unsure which of those two was right, I never considered the third answer: “Out of my way, fuckers! I’m a-comin’ through!”
Habitat: Everywhere in southeastern Michigan
Typical model: Who knows, but it has a big grill!
Sometimes, you just have to go the speed limit, right? You may know it’s a heavily patrolled section of road, or you might have a jumpy passenger. There are any number of good reasons why you’re taking it easy. But the motorist behind you has other ideas. One of them is utterly absurd: He seems to believe that, by driving very close to your bumper, he will make your car drive faster. Never mind that he’d actually have to be touching your car to make it go faster, he’s going to attempt the physically impossible, for as many miles as it takes. At that point, I usually figure they want to see my bumper stickers, so, being of a generous nature, I’ll slow down so they may have a good, long look at them.