As drivers, we're just a bunch of primitives

Posted: October 26, 2012

I'M 65, BORN and raised in Philly. When my wife retires and we opt to leave town, my main reason will involve managing my blood pressure, because driving around Philly almost always raises it. Every locale has its own cultural aspects, and over time those aspects become accepted reality. That includes a locale's driving culture. Philly's has always been in the Dark Ages. It has never been a car-friendly town.

In my younger years, I knew something was wrong with the driving culture here when co-workers, having learned I'd visited New York City, would launch into a rant about "those crazy New York drivers, especially the cab drivers." Frankly, I loved driving in NYC. People drove like people who plopped down thousands of dollars on a machine so they can get somewhere in the shortest time possible, without being reckless. Time was not only money, it was life itself - all that any of us have.

I have driven across country a few times, traveling through just about every major city. Yes, there are a couple of cities that have streets as narrow as Philly's, but they accommodate cars by making alternating one-way streets. And they synchronize traffic signals as often as possible. They install left-turn arrows and left-turn lanes so that traffic won't back up because of one turning car. They don't paint double lines all over the place so that you don't freeze at the thought of going around a slow or clueless driver. Philly has by far the fewest synchronized traffic lights of any major or small city in the nation. And Philly was the last city to address right-turn-on-red signs and the completion of Interstate 95. Is it a wonder, then, that this city gleefully paints bike lanes all over town, even in areas that haven't seen a cyclist in decades, and on commercial strips that have long suffered from congestion?

A primitive driving culture creates incompetent drivers. Not just the ones who go stupid with cellphones. You have the no-turn-signalers, the sway-left-before-turning-righters, those who nod off on green lights, those who buy vehicles they can't keep in their lanes, the snail-pacers in the outside lane, the excessively courteous at the expense of those waiting behind, the ones who expect to change lanes because of your courtesy and not their skill and foresight, those who think that staying five or six car lengths behind the forward car is the ultimate in safe driving, and on and on. Skillful drivers in Philly should be offered special health insurance for cardiac events behind the wheel.

After 40-plus years, I've given Philly ample time to enter the modern era, but it's failed miserably. Conditions are worsening. It's time to leave town.

Len Trower

Philadelphia

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