I like living near DC. It’s pretty and full of monuments and there is a lot of crap to do (should you care or have the energy enough to do it). It’s a pretty cool place.
I do not live driving near DC. Name one major freeway in the area (of which, there are too many) and I’ll give you a derogative adjective to use when describing it. I pretty much avoid I-295 (The BW Parkway) at all costs, and only use I-95 if I really need to get to Baltimore. The GW Parkway might as well be called the GW Parking Lot if you try to drive it any time between 7AM to 8 PM, Monday through Friday. I know it’s not the worst traffic in the country, but the sheer volume of government employees, contractors, lobbyists, politicians, tourists, school children, pigeons, deer, and presidential cavalcades, make a perfect storm of traffic, the body of which encircles the entire city in a maelstrom of traffic horror: I-495 (The Beltway).
I have been commuting on The Beltway for nearly 3 years now, but I’ve been driving it casually for 10. When I was a kid, I drove on I-270, and thought that its nightly backups were the peak of terrible traffic in our area. As I got older, I realized the 270 was just a tributary vein that fed the major artery that is 495.
Unfortunately, DC has grown fat from eating way too many fat-laden, high calorie suburbs. DC doesn’t like vegetables and doesn’t like to work out, which has resulted in clogged arteries and early onset cardiovascular disease. The plaque building up in the main artery of 495 has nearly reached critical mass; soon DC will suffer a brutal heart attack, rendering the roadways undrivable.
The volume is only partially to blame for the horrible traffic in the area. The horrendous driving habits are also partially to blame. VA people complain that DC and MD people suck at driving. MD people complain that VA and DC people suck at driving. The DC people are too busy sucking at driving to complain about anything. The lack of turn signals, abrupt no-reason breaking, and middle of the freeway U-turns (I wish I was joking) definitely only make the nasty traffic far worse.
Knowing that I am just one man, and can do little to change the conditions on the roads while driving, I decided that reeducation was the best course of action. To all DC drivers (and really anyone who lives in a congested area) I offer the following suggestions, reminders, and warnings:
(Please forgive my drawings; I am a writer, not a drawist. I attempted to design these in Photoshop, but got frustrated/lazy, and did them all in MS Paint instead. All of the cars are birds-eye views of 1994 Jeep Grand Cherokees, which also kind of look like thermoses.)
1. In bumper to bumper traffic, do no attempt to use the right hand merge lane to “sneak by” other traffic. Everyone sees you doing this. You managed to move up ~200 feet, but 50+ people now think you’re a total asshole. Good work!
2. If you have a merge lane (on either side) and there is space in the nearest lane, for god sake merge! I have no idea why people wait until the end of a merge lane to then panic because they’ve run out of road, when they had 900 other opportunities to quickly and safely get over. Merge, or slam into a guard rail at 70 MPH. Your call.
3.If you can’t drive 10 to 15 MPH over the speed limit, get the hell out of the left lane. Some of us have wreckless driving to do/meeting we’re late for/video games to play, and would really appreciate it if you moved your 1987 two-tone, spoiler-laden, rust-mobile out of our way.
4.Why the hell do you have head phones on while you’re driving!? Seriously? I had an old coworker tell me that the headphones were for his iPhone. Great! So you’re listening to (and presumably participating in) a phone conversation instead of music. Waaaay better.
Also, don’t give me the “well it’s not illegal if they’re ear buds!” excuse. It’s not illegal to wear Bose® noise-cancelling headphones and go take a nap of some railroad tracks either. Doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
5. When you get in your car, your only goal is to get to your location without crashing. It’s not even kind of difficult. When you get in your car, your goal is NOT to read your email, eat a bowl of cereal, cuss out your girlfriend, or paint your toenails (these are anecdotal examples, FYI). If you crash your car, you have failed at the very fundamentals of driving.
Thank you, and please try to drive using your brain instead of whatever it is you have been using prior to reading this.