I’ve been thinking a lot about one-way streets again. What a beautiful, pure concept. Down this street you may only travel in one direction. Put a bunch these around each other and, ideally, traffic should be well ordered and move quickly. It’s a little thing but, as every self-help book instructs us, it’s important to be grateful for the little things.
This delightful invention can be traced back to William Phelps Eno (the “Father of Traffic Safety”) a wealthy New Yorker who, in 1900, published an article entitled Reforming Our Street Traffic Urgently Needed. At the time, transport was chaotic and traffic deaths were a daily occurrence. Among the solutions Eno suggested was the creation of stops signs at intersections. Eno went on to become a traffic safety missionary who toured the world trying to mitigate the dangers associated with driving. His best-loved adage: “It is easy to control an army but next to impossible to regulate a mob.” In 1909, New York City adopted his “rules of the road” and instituted the world’s first traffic plan.
Among Eno’s creations: traffic lights, taxi stands, pedestrian islands and, you guessed it, that beautiful little thing, the one-way street.
Little things. They count. That’s true in life in general and it’s especially true when it comes to driving. Little things matter, little things like knowing what a steering wheel is or that a stop sign means stop, not roll.
And yet, as our cars get overrun by gadgets and self-driving mechanisms, driving itself is becoming a little thing. You can tell by the way that motorists treat vital rules, such as yielding for pedestrians, as after-thoughts. Right now we’re worried about how texting hurts our driving but soon we’ll worry about how driving hurts our texting. Little things are adding up to making driving one big bad horrible thing.
Take, for example, our one-way street. This splendid little thing is mistreated daily in the worst possible ways. Most drivers consider a one-way sign as a signal that it’s okay to drive as if they’re qualifying for the Indy 500. (“Hey, if traffic all goes one-way then it’s okay for me to drive 70 in a 40 zone.”) That’s why most one-way North American streets have speed bumps. Other motorists believe it’s okay to reverse up one-way streets (“As long as my car is pointed in the right direction I’m okay”).
Lately, I’ve grown irked by a one-way variation. I’m sick of drivers who don’t know how to turn properly from a one-way street to a two-way street. True, it’s not the worst thing you can do in an automobile but it’s incredibly irritating because the correct procedure is so clear. You pull closest to the direction you are turning. Are you turning left? Then direct your car to the left side of the one-way and then turn left.
Check any driver’s manual on earth. From the Saskatchewan Driver’s Handbook, “A left turn from a one-way street to a two-way street should be made from a point as close as possible to the left edge of the roadway. Enter the two-way street into the lane immediately to the right of the centre line. If there are no parked cars in the curb lane it is appropriate to move into that lane in advance of the corner.”
A simple little thing. Right?
Why then do I continually find myself stuck behind a guy who is trying to turn left from a one-way from the right side of the road? It’s as if, despite the evidence, you know, the one-way sign and the cars all going one way, he thinks he’s on a two-way. And so a line forms because the entire road is blocked while this moron sheepishly executes what amounts to a 140-point turn. No one can turn right. No one can drive through. It is counter-intuitive.
Okay, you’re thinking, at least when these guys want to turn right they do it from the right-hand side of the one-way street? Right? Wrong. When they want to turn right they pull their cars over to the left, sometimes the middle, and once again block the entire street.
But surely, you posit, when these drivers are turning from a one-way street to another one-way street, they know it’s okay to turn left when waiting on a red light? You know, turning from a one-way running south to a one-way running east? No. They sit motionless waiting for the light to change.
Okay. Deep breathes. Time to find my happy place.
Now, I readily admit to being an easily irked fellow. Regular readers know that, when it comes to driving, “Frustration” is my middle name. Come on, you’ll say, what’s a few poor driving habits? Well, nothing on the short run but, over time, those bad habits pile up and they breed more grievous transgressions. They breed apathy and distraction. On the street and on the highway they can be dangerous.
Ignore the little things today. Suffer the big bad things tomorrow.
Follow Andrew Clark on Twitter: @aclarkcomedy