OUR COMMUTES can make curmudgeons of us all.
And that's what I'm afraid has happened to Bob Valerius. He e-mailed me before hitting the road one day last week about his daily commute across the Bay Bridge. "Once again some idiot has a disabled vehicle on the bridge, causing thousands of people to be delayed," he said.
"I understand that failures happen at inopportune times, but I would be willing to bet that poor maintenance or poor planning [i.e., out of gas], cause an overwhelming majority of these disabled vehicles. I would like to propose a law that requires someone to show why they broke down on a bridge or tunnel or anywhere with no shoulder so that they screw up traffic. If they can't show that it was through no fault of their own, then they lose a license for a year or two. Harsh yes, but we really need to get the morons off the road. I should not be penalized because someone else is too stupid to change their oil or fill their gas tank."
Yes, I agree. We really should punish people who are determined to break down in the road, tie up traffic and make thousands of other drivers miserable. Why spend the day at the beach when you can spend it stuck in the middle of the bridge span waiting for a tow truck and breathing in the sweet smell of exhaust?
Bad, bad people!
I sympathize with Mr. Valerius, I really do. I've been there, twiddling my thumbs and counting the clouds in an impromptu parking lot on the way home. Sympathizing with the poor schmo who caused the tie up is the last thing I feel like doing. But I can't imagine that anyone sets out to break down along the side of the road, especially crossing that bridge, where there's no room to pull out of the way. And to be honest, I think that's punishment enough.
From nightmare commutes to nightmare intersections, which Al Brodhurst suggested as a whole new category in this column's lists of worst places to drive. His nomination is Exit 17 off U.S. 29, which leads into Shaker Drive/Allview/Seneca Drive in Columbia.
"Trying to make a left is like jumping off into space," he said. "Due to the construction of the road, you cannot see what is coming at you until it is too late. You cross your fingers and hope no cars are coming. At rush hour, you can see what is coming at you but can't turn left because the string of cars will not let you in. Your only option is to turn right, drive for several blocks and then turn around." He worries that this situation won't improve until someone gets badly injured - or killed - at that intersection.
Most weeks, this column pretty much reflects the comments you send me. I've been buried under the onslaught of motorcycle-related hate mail and fan mail, and there is just no room to print it all. But from the wilderness comes a voice of reason: Gerry McMahon e-mailed what turns out to be the last word on motorcycles in this column for a while.
"I like to leave more than the usual space between vehicles at intersections, especially on my motorcycle, so I don't blend in with the vehicle in front of me. If [it's] a semi, you see the big box and an extra taillight in the center, and before you know it you have pushed me under it. But if I stay a car length back, I am distinct from the semi," he said. "I have noticed people tend not to get on my tail so much when I leave extra room in front."
Unlike many motorcyclists, he does not believe that loud motorcycles save lives. "Trained riders save lives," he said. "Loud pipes annoy neighbors."
He noted that the most common motorcycle/car incident occurs at intersections when the car driver turns left, violating the motorcyclist's right of way. "From the front you can't even hear the loud [exhaust] until the bike is beside you, way too late for the most common accident. Under represented in crashes are the large touring bikes with big fairings and lots of lights [because these are] more visible to others on the road."
He dismissed the justification that loud "pipes" will prevent car drivers from overlooking bikers hovering in their blind spots. "[This] is a lack of training on the car driver's part and the motorcyclist's as well," he said. "No one should ever change a lane without first turning their head to look in their blind spot. Many drivers glance in the mirror and bing! change lanes. Motorcyclists need to recognize that they may be in a blind spot and get out of it either by slowing or accelerating."
What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at firstname.lastname@example.org, send faxes to 410-715-2816 or mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 30 Corporate Center, 10440 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 820, Columbia, 21044. Please include your full name and contact information or your comments will not be published or receive a response.