*Anonymous? Really? Why won’t I put my name on this column? As I see it, the purpose of my writing is to stimulate thought and conversation about the assumptions we have about safety, and what that means in the context of a civil society that generally follows the rule of law. I know that some folks will be furious at me for the things I say. That’s fine, but because I really don’t want this to become personal, I choose privacy. Moreover, a lot of what I will be describing is blatantly illegal—not that I’m encouraging others to do the same. But still, does it seem wise to invite the scrutiny of law enforcement? I don’t think so. That’s why I’m staying undercover. Sign me: Anonymous—for good reason.
Jug Handle – Adventures of The Red Light Avenger
Unpredictable things happen every day to keep a commuter’s life from getting dull. While it seems that most people hate variation from their routine, preferring instead the sameness that they mistakenly equate with “safety,” I am grateful for those things which add spice to my mornings and afternoons. These include the weather, road construction, accidents, cops, deer, and other drivers who, somehow unaware of my presence, try to knock me off the road, and so on. I’m looking forward to covering all those issues here later. Today, though, I’m going to discuss the things that stay the same every day: the obstacles that have been deliberately planted in my path to thwart my forward motion.
On my most commonly used route between home and work, I encounter two speed bumps, six stop signs, three speed trap cameras, and twenty-one traffic lights. TWENTY-ONE! Almost all of those traffic lights hang within the four and a half miles between my house and the launch ramp to the Interstate. Measured in distance, the red light-infested urban/suburban component of my commute is about a fifth of the total distance to work, but measured in time it’s around half the total amount. Of course, I’m motivated to reduce the time spent mired in suburban crawl. Since I am a staunch believer that uncontrolled traffic-anarchy is a better way to get more people to their destinations in less time, I derive great satisfaction from defeating the dehumanizing tyranny of red lights. My motto: The throttle is mightier than the brake. Don’t stop. GO whenever possible!
To avoid stopping I have become a red light avenger, slaying as many of the soul-sucking devices as possible. My weapon is surprisingly easy and effective—especially at major intersections where two multi-lane thoroughfares cross in a confusion of signs, signals, and frustrated drivers. I call it the “jug handle,” because if looked at from a bird’s eye view, my travel path would somewhat resemble that shape.
Here’s how it works. Before reaching the congested intersection at which I intend to go straight (or turn left), I’ll move to the right lane so I can turn right at or before the light—easiest when there’s a designated turn lane, but even when such a lane is not there, I use whatever means necessary: splitting lanes, taking a parallel access road, cutting through a parking lot, or simply riding up on the right side of the row of cars that have already stopped. In most cases I can make the right turn without stopping, barely even slowing down. After making that right, I then make a u-turn at the next available opportunity. So I’m heading back the way I came to the original intersection, except now, I’m looking at a green light, or better yet, a green right-turn arrow. Zap! Zoom! Red light defeated!
Even in cases where my first u-turn opportunity is not until a few hundred yards away from the light that I skipped, I still end up way ahead of the traffic that’s stuck waiting back at the light. On my route there are four or five busy intersections where long red lights keep drivers waiting for two or three minutes at each one. (That feels like forever to my internal travel clock!) So by the time I have done my “jug handle” move at each of these intersections, I’ve cut at least five, and sometimes as many as eight or nine minutes off my commute time. This adds up!
(Tempted to try this? Beware: skill and nerve and a sense of timing required; and as always, focused attention. Look ahead as far as possible. It’s better, of course, if you’re already familiar with the pattern and timing of the traffic lights. But I have done it even in places I’ve never been before and found success more often than not. Go for it!)
Let me remind you: I am not in a race against the clock. If I was, I would simply take the car and sit on the slab with the rest of the slack-jawed, glassy-eyed motorists, because, in fact, the act of putting on my riding gear and taking it off at the other end of the commute takes more time than I can save by riding, no matter how fast I’m able to go. So, why go to all this trouble, you say? Because I am really in a race against boredom; against the stifling helplessness that, for me, comes with being in a car stuck in traffic; against the absence of motion—especially when it is arbitrarily dictated by inanimate robots with blinking colored lights in them dangling from poles overhead.
There are apparently humans who, in their occupation, are called “Traffic Planners” or “Traffic Engineers.” I have only heard of these individuals; I have never actually met one, and maybe that’s a good thing because I would find it very difficult to refrain from punching the guy in the nose, and I don’t need another reason to visit a courtroom. Do these guys go to college to learn how to do this? Is there a special school that grants a diploma? (“Congratulations! Having failed all your courses in logic and common sense, you are now authorized to go forth and, using all the tactics and instruments at your disposal, cause the greatest number of drivers the most amount of agonizing and pointless delay possible!“) Or is it, as I suspect, someone who has gradually worked his way up through the ranks at the department of public works, and because he graduated from high school and knows how to kiss management’s ass, is given this cushy position a few years prior to retirement.
Perhaps I’m being uncharitable. Maybe I just don’t understand what a really tough and thankless job it is. Maybe there is pressure from law enforcement, or from the safetycrats at the DOT, or from politicians eager to appease voters’ concerns about the horrible traffic on their street. But whatever the causes, the only solutions that ever seem to get implemented are to lower the speed limits, put up more red lights, and more stop signs (4-way at each and every block if possible), speed cameras, red light cameras, or the obstruction I personally despise the most, speed bumps! So, does it turn out that the job of “Traffic Engineer” has almost nothing to do with facilitating the smooth and efficient flow of traffic, but is really all about doing the bidding of those in power with an agenda that is, in fact, aimed at accomplishing the opposite? I fear this may be the case.
Well, I can’t accept the powerlessness. I choose to ride because it affords me the best way to overcome a system designed to slow me down at all costs—a system that wrongfully equates Safe with Slow. That system doesn’t work for me. So I guess I’ll just have to go on being an outlaw. And what fun I’ll have!
NOTE: This column is not set up as a forum where readers’ comments can be instantly posted—and that’s by design. However, you can write to me, and I welcome your thoughts. I may occasionally post pertinent discussion threads in future columns. Got something to say? Write to: firstname.lastname@example.org