There are days I’d rather be driving on Highway 80 in Iraq circa February 26-27, 1991 than any road in Austin (but especially I-35). Besides, what is an Austin motorist haphazardly steering their Prius but a Hellfire missile on wheels? Is it possible to be aggressively oblivious? Or actively accident-prone? Can you be both at the same time? It seems impossible, but the roads of Austin aren’t a place for questions. Suspend your disbelief, because Austin drivers are, somehow, real life.
I have been in two car accidents since I moved to Austin three years ago. I was not at fault in either instance. I wasn’t at fault because I wasn’t in my car when the accidents happened, because my car was parked, legally, on the side of roads on which cars normally park. Austin motorists have TWICE been unable to avoid hitting my stationary, out of the way vehicle while traveling under 30 mph. That’s like accidentally walking off a cliff that you can see in front of you. Credit where credit is due, at least both of the drivers were decent enough to pay for the damages. Austin is a city full of nice people. Grandmas are nice too. They’re also terrible, dangerous drivers.
Last year in Austin, there was what Texans would call an “ice storm” and what Midwesterners like myself would call a “cold, misty who gives a fuck why are we talking about this?” day. The roads that evening were an apocalypse. This “fictional” column I wrote was based in large part on that commute. One report I read said there were 150 collisions during the evening commute that day. On my way home I watched cars WILDLY swerve, sometimes into other lanes, to get out of the way of shiny spots on the road where the streetlights reflected, which they mistook for ice patches. I think they might have also mistaken the effect an ice patch has for the effect of a land mine. If there’s another “ice storm” this year I’m going to grab a cooler full of beer, a lawn chair, plant myself on an I-35 overpass and laugh at the chaos below.
But here’s the best part, Austinites are terrible drivers first and foremost because until recently Texas didn’t require a driving test to get a driver’s license. Texans weren’t required to prove their driving skills behind the wheel while being judged by an overweight government-employed woman in uniform riding shotgun (though there are those that often still do). They just showed up, took a written test, and handed in “driving hours” they did with a guardian. Several natives have assured me these driving hours are often total bullshit. One girl actually said, “When I got my driver’s license I still had no idea how to drive.” It would literally be safer for the community to give away handguns with a Whataburger value meal than it is to allow these people to operate motor vehicles. Compound all that with the general hippie aloofness of Austin, and it’s easy to imagine the scores of parents who simply let their baby birds fly out into the world to discover for themselves. The side of every roadway in this city should be nothing but crosses, white bicycles, and flowers.
Fuck you, Austin drivers.
New York, NY
Nobody drives in New York City, and to do so is a fucking mistake. Why would anyone bother driving in a city where it can take you about an hour to drive two avenues and three blocks? Getting across town can be an all-day affair. And that’s on a good day. Any given time you’re driving in NYC, you’re liable to be cut off by psycho cabbies, get a ticket for driving in a bus lane by accident because traffic wouldn’t let you out, get held up by random construction, or clip a delivery guy on a bike. And if you CAN navigate the weaving webs of one-way traffic that alternate with each street and avenue, then you have to park.
Parallel parking is pretty much completely unnecessary to learn anywhere else, except here, where you have to learn how to squeeze your car between two massive SUVs while making sure you’re far enough away from the fire hydrant. You have to THEN deal with Alternate-Side Parking, which is about as complicated as calculus written in Japanese. The side of the street you can park on switches every other day. It’s maddening. Or pay $15 an hour to park it in a parking lot.
My advice to you is to take a cab. Or the subway. Or just straight-up avoid New York City like the plague.
J. Parks Caldwell
Rather than taking The Lodge to downtown Detroit ever again, next time I’m just going to stay in Bill Cosby’s bedroom where it’s safer. The flow of traffic being 95 mph is all fun and games until a construction cone goes flying up your ass, because Susie in Lane 4 is busy Snapping a picture of the first snowflakes of mid-August. I would be amazed at how easily you people somehow forget to drive in the snow despite living here your entire lives, but then again, you’re the same naïve idiots who think that every year is the Lions’ year. At least the suicidal Michael Brown protestors who had the genius idea of marching out onto the infamous freeway, at night, wearing all-black, provide a nice, soft landing spot for the F150s barreling toward the concrete barriers.
Of course, the alternative of taking Woodward Avenue downtown isn’t much better. Due to the long-awaited construction of the M1 light rail and the recent (and very exciting) explosion of development, Michigan’s most famous road is currently down to one lane, with the end result of making the entrance into New Center have an uncanny resemblance to a Palestinian checkpoint. Motor City, my ass. At least godawful drivers in other states have the decency to alert pedestrians of their impending deaths by slapping an Ohio license plate on the back of their cars.
DC breeds a ton of high strung, type A, politically charged road blowers thanks to the nature of us being, well, the muthafuggin capital of the world’s most powerful country. Couple that with the fact that we have drivers from DC, Maryland, AND Virginia, three areas that all have vastly different laws of the road and driver’s education programs, and you get yourself crowned as the the Nation’s Worst Drivers Ever. For example, Virginia doesn’t require you to pass a parallel parking exam in order to get your license when you are 16 and 3 months. Maryland does. DC does. Who’s that bitch sticking halfway out of their spot in Georgetown? Virginia plates. Also, Virginia doesn’t have speed cameras. Who’s that bitch that just rear ended me on Canal Road? Virginia plates. Actually, Virginia drivers are the ones making us look bad. Fucking Virginia plates.
Oklahoma City, OK
Three things Oklahoma drivers know jack-shit about: 1) Proper vehicle maintenance, 2) That the lines painted on the road are there for you to drive in between, 3) That there is a proper speed somewhere between “too fucking slow” and “holy shit, slow the fuck down.” So not only is every redneck driving down the road sporting 20-year-old tires, taking up their own lane AND half of yours, as well as either holding up traffic or just running it smooth over with blatant disregard for human life, but add in a million death-trap semi-trucks due to two of the busiest cross-country trucking interstates intersecting right in the middle of this place and also interstates built when the projected growth for Oklahoma City was like, to not grow at all. To eliminate as much of this stress as possible, I moved three blocks from work to be able to just walk there. My “commute” has become more dangerous. I now know why this is the Bible belt– much praying required.
“Welcome to Cleveland where the sun doesn’t shine, it blinds!” In a city where it snows, rains, and pisses ice from the sky seven months out of the year, one might think Cleveland is the ideal place to learn how to be a great all-weather driver. I’m here to tell whatever poor, foolish soul assumes this that they are wrong, and to get the hell out of the fast lane if they are going to drive the speed limit. Northeast Ohio drivers pride themselves on their ability to knee drive a stick shift, in a blizzard, in the middle of the night, cigarette in one hand while giving a handjibber with the other. They have a false sense of confidence on the road that is built up over the course of battling black ice and lake-effect snow during the seven-month winter.
It’s when the cold comes to an end and the sun peaks out for the first time in what feels like LeBron’s four year hiatus that the roads become a complete and utter mess. You see, in Cleveland it’s not the snow that brings out the shittiest, most incompetent drivers; it’s the goddamn sun. If Dick Goddard predicts sunny skies for your morning commute then you better leave an hour early because some Parma chick wearing white gas station sunglasses in her 2001 Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder will be rear ended by a Semi truck and all forward movement will cease to exist. I’m fairly certain when Bruce Springsteen wrote “Blinded By The Light” he was driving eastbound on I-90. The truth is, unless its overcast or the sky is hemorrhaging snow—Clevelanders can’t drive for shit.
While I certainly wouldn’t throw my hometown Philadelphia’s traffic mayhem up there with the big dogs like New York City and Los Angeles, the “City of Brotherly Love” has to at least fall in the top five on a list of the worst places to be a motorist in America. Anyone who’s ever lived or visited here knows that.
Our roads are deplorable, as are some of the people who frequent them. If you’re using Broad St. to get in and out of the city, watch the fuck out at all times, because from 66th Street until down past Temple University, there are people wandering aimlessly at all hours of the day, who either don’t believe in, or were never educated about, the point of a crosswalk. You’ll be flying down Broad at 45mph trying to time the lights, and out of nowhere some jerkoff literally starts to walk out in traffic without looking. I like to think maybe it’s natural selection at play.
If you’re taking I-76 or I-95, you’re likely not hitting any traffic, unless it’s rush hour that is, and in that case you’re fucked. Both roads, which traverse the city on each side are absolute parking lots during rush hour. If you drive it everyday, you hate it, and fully expect to sit in traffic for over an hour each way on your commute. I-95 has been most delayed recently due to construction, which will actually see it expanded to 5 lanes (we’re coming for you, LA), and I-76 is a two lane road that Main Line businessmen love to do 95mph on when they’re late for work and subsequently wreck Audi A8’s every morning, so crashes and gaper delays wreak havoc on it constantly.
Lastly, the Philadelphia Parking Authority is so horrid they were able to land a reality TV show about their often explicit confrontations with citizens. I think they watch videos of sharks hunting for blood before they go out to make their rounds. Too often, they hand out exorbitant tickets written for petty parking offenses that seem like they should’ve been an entitled right of a tax-payer in the first place. Most of Philadelphia is on a strict 2-hour parking limit timed by meters. If you’re a single minute late there’s about a 98% chance you’re getting ticketed. That number dramatically increases in minute two and there after, so if you chose to put your car in a garage for the day, well, let’s just say you could’ve bought a great burger and a scotch at Village Whiskey on 20th and Sansom.
Speaking of the streets, in Philly they’re all one way, so before you can even get ticketed for over parking your meter, you usually need to crisscross them aimlessly for up to 30 minutes on weekends to even find an open spot. For a cheesesteak run, though, it’s well worth it.
Well, they don’t call us “Massholes” for nothing. I recently gave up on our shitty public transportation system and now drive to work in Boston, and I can personally attest that it’s pretty much a daily suicide mission to get to the office. My fellow drivers believe in the liberal use of the horn, don’t know what a turn signal is, and think the speed limit is merely a suggestion that gives them a reason to ride your bumper.
On top of all that, we have this lovely large scale road construction project in the city called the Big Dig. Despite what the state government says about it being complete, anyone that actually lives here knows the truth: it will never.be.fucking.done. So streets that were one way on one day will go in the other direction the next, rotaries pop up out of nowhere and bridges that once existed will just disappear. Part of the project is also a cashless toll system, which is great, because who the hell carries cash anymore? However, it’s become apparent to me that my fellow commuters don’t understand that you are supposed to drive through these at a normal speed, because despite the 400 signs telling them not to stop, they slam on their brakes to make sure the little flashing light goes off. With all that plus the pothole-poolza that comes after the winter, it’s no wonder that Allstate found that people in Boston are literally the worst drivers in America.
Nashville’s problems are three-fold. The first is that people are too polite. While I love this aspect of the south 99% of the time, there are situations where you just have to rip a left turn when the light turns green, force your way when merging into a lane, and all of the other things that are completely normal up north. People down here don’t quite get that. It’s also illegal to flip someone off, which complicates your response. Worst though is the complete inability to drive in any form of precipitation. I understand that people down here might not be as adept at driving in snow and ice and I am, but come on, rain is not a complex driving condition.
Kansas City, MO
Let me set the scene for you. I’m 18 years old and coming back from hockey practice. I’m sitting at a stop sign on one of the busiest roads in KCMO. I see a 1999 Dodge Durango barreling towards the intersection. The idiot in the Durango then attempts to make a left-hand turn from the center lane of a three lane road, gets spun out by the car behind them, does a full 180-degree U-turn and plows into the rear driver’s side of my car. A yard to the right, and I probably would’ve been killed. I’m left with a busted ass rear driver’s side door, mild concussion and whiplash. I climbed out of my car and boom. A set of Kansas plates staring me in the face.
I wish I could tell you I was the only one who had a bad encounter with a driver from Kansas. Most of them drive their shitty Ford Edges, Mazda CX-5s, and Nissan Armadas in and out of strip malls and have difficulty driving on anything that is not a massive, four-lane parkway. Asking someone from the Kansas side in Kansas City to navigate a road that isn’t a 90% empty street outside of rush hour is like asking a fish to climb up a sand dune. I’ve been in three accidents in my life. All three of them were the fault of a driver with Kansas plates. All three of them occurred on the Missouri side of Kansas City. Do us all a favor and take the bus whenever you feel like leaving the ‘burbs.
Los Angeles, CA
Randall J. Knox
Talking about LA traffic in the larger context of commuting in other American cities isn’t quite fair. It would be like mentioning Genghis Khan, a man responsible for tens of millions of deaths, in the same breath as a paper cut, trying to get sand out of your ass, and having to do your taxes by hand. It’s just not comparable on a scale of awfulness. You are looking a transportation system that is so fundamentally fucked that the only real solution to the congestion would be mass murder. Which is conveniently what a couple hours on the 405 will cause you to contemplate. And yes, we put a “the” in front of our highway names, and yes it’s narcissistic and silly, and no we don’t care.
The point is, the system is flawed. The LA metro area is the most spread out of the major cities, which you would assume would be good for keeping down congestion, except that geography cuts off each area from the others. The whole city is situated straddling a string of hills like a cheap stripper on top of a traveling pharmaceutical salesman who contemplates suicide every time he checks into a another Holiday Inn. The only way from the Valley (where the poors like me live) to the city (where most of their jobs are) is via two highways and a couple of winding mountain roads. So the 405, which has six lanes on either side that hum along nicely late at night, turns into a demonic cacophony of horns, wrecks, and non-movement during the day. You could double the lanes, and it wouldn’t matter. That’s how many people live in this fucking city. Not that lane expansion is possible, given that the whole deal is wedged in between two hill ranges, and the mere act of construction buttfucks everything even worse. Not that they aren’t CONSTANTLY doing construction projects that are so superficial as to be completely absurd.
Add all of this in with LA’s childish inability to drive in the rain when it occasionally comes down, the complete lack of parking that isn’t governed by incomprehensible signage, and every junior studio exec/real estate agent driving their BMW like it’s an out of control bumper car at a carnival whose theme is cocaine and the visual shroud of class, and you have a combination so horrible that people will move away from the best climate on the planet just to get away from it.
These other cities just frontin’..