In 1987, Toronto's police force unleashed an all-out blitz on gridlock. Four officers were assigned to stake out busy corners and issue warning notices to drivers who blocked traffic by pulling into intersections. This elite force worked tirelessly from 4 to 6 p.m. each weekday and handed anyone who "proceeded into an intersection in an unsafe manner" a vicious warning. No one was safe. According to a spokesman, anyone who blocked an intersection - "even if they entered on a green light" – would be warned and if they repeated the offence eventually fined $28.75.
When I look back on the eighties, it's this kind of innocence and wide-eyed optimism that warms my heart. Gridlock a problem? Drivers blocking intersections? Put four beat cops on it. Then warn 'em all! Let God sort out the details.
Today, intersection blocking is the norm, as common as running yellows and typing up your screenplay while driving (following the edicts of the best-selling Stop Light Screenwriter: Write Your First Feature While Waiting for a Green). On a recent 20-minute trip around town, I encountered four incidents of drivers intentionally blocking intersections. These aren't drivers who get caught out when the lights change. These are "ego blockers," people who use this as a driving technique and form of self-aggrandizement.
Here's how an ego blocker operates. Traffic is clogged, as usual, and all the cars on the other side of the intersection are stopped. At this point, the intersection is still clear. That's too much for the blocker to bear. He pulls his car into the intersection. The lights change. But wait, the traffic before him doesn't move. He's stuck and so are we. He sits there, relaxing, listening to EZ Rock, waiting for the flow to move. Meanwhile, the drivers hoping to use the intersection to do things, like, you know, drive through, are gridlocked. Eventually the cars in front of him roll along and off he goes on his happy way. By then, the lights have changed back again. The other motorists remain stuck.
I'm not sure who I hate more – the idiot ego blocker or the wimps who fail to honk and yell at him. Doesn't this behaviour warrant some form of censure? Has not heaven an ear? Is all the lightning wasted? I sometimes lie in bed at night wondering what kind of person consciously decides to block an intersection. Are they that self-absorbed? Can we screen them out using DNA? Could we at least arrest a few? For narcissism in the first degree?
I mention arrest as an option because blocking an intersection is illegal in pretty much every province and municipality. In Ontario, for instance, Section 145 of the Ontario Highway Traffic Act states that a municipality may "prohibit a driver or street car operator approaching, at an intersection, a traffic control signal showing a circular green or green arrow indication from entering the intersection unless traffic in front of him or her is moving in a manner that would reasonably lead him or her to believe he or she can clear the intersection before the signal indication changes to a circular red indication." That's legalese for "Don't block the intersection, you moron."
There are still the occasional attempts to stop intersection blocking. In 2010, the Ottawa police force introduced the unfortunately named "Don't Block the Box" campaign aimed at curbing the incidence of "box blocking." On its first day, they issued 40 tickets. Unfortunately, this is the exception, not the rule. For the most part, it seems like traffic enforcement has given up trying to stop ego blockers. We're in a Wild West scenario – it's block or be blocked.
Is there anything the average citizen can do? Well, for starters, we could all stop playing the averages when it comes to clogging intersections.
The ego blockers block the intersection because they don't care about anyone or anything. Jamming up traffic makes them feel important. But let's face it; we've all been stuck out there by accident. You miscalculate the flow and you wind up "box blocking" like a stranded whale. Follow this rule: Even if the intersection is clear, if the traffic on the other side is at a standstill, then there is a good chance you'll get stuck blocking traffic.
Do not proceed.
Don't apply foot to accelerator. Don't move forward. Relax. Don't do it. Don't be an ego blocker. Don't block the box. Remember that lights change. What goes red will go green. In a minute or two, you'll get your chance to move on and you'll avoid being the object of scorn for dozens of your fellow citizens.
When it comes to blocking the intersection – he who hesitates is doing the right thing.