Interstates

by Honolulu Mother

My husband suggested this article for a Totebag topic:

How to Fix Our Interstates

The following are his comments on it.

“I found this interesting on several levels.

First, the article is in contrast to my father’s perspective on the interstate coming to Washington state during his coming of age as a driver. His claim was that many of the planners of the initial interstate build favored ring roads around the major cities, but that the merchants of the day overrode that in pursuit of tourist dollars.

Second, having commuted the “interstate” in Hawaii for several decades, I have often found myself stuck in traffic and wondering if the whole thing would move better if we added stoplights for through traffic and merging traffic at major choke points and treated it like any other major city street. Our highway in urban Honolulu is actually grandfathered under design requirements of the 60s. As I understand it, our upgrade options are severely limited short of bringing the system into compliance with current requirements.

Third, I lean libertarian and tend to agree that if we left transportation funding and decisions at the local level we would achieve better results. Under the current system, if a local government spends ninety cents in added costs for federal compliance to receive a dollar of federal funding it counts as ten free cents.

It’s traffic, folks, I know everyone’s bound to have opinions.”

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112 thoughts on “Interstates

  1. Third, I lean libertarian and tend to agree that if we left transportation funding and decisions at the local level we would achieve better results.

    I totally agree. However, that would impose a huge burden on the big square states in the middle – which I’m fine with. But, that’s also why it will never happen.

  2. “Though I don’t know how to drive myself.”

    Disqualified.

    Yes, let’s all go back to the 1930s, when it took an hour to trudge 6 miles, and most people couldn’t afford cars.

    I know I’m way to the left of most people on here, but good Lord, there is a blindness here that is striking. I’m not surprised that most people don’t understand the constitutional prohibitions on limiting interstate travel — that’s a highly geeky area that you’d have no reason to know unless you were forced to learn it in law school, and it’s what generally prohibits states and localities from imposing tolls (which I guess is more palatable than “use taxes”?) on the interstate system.

    But: do people not realize exactly how much of our economy is built on the free flow of interstate commerce? Is it really just a coincidence that the great explosion in American productivity began when we built the damn highways that allowed California strawberries to be sold in Minneapolis and New york, and oil from Texas to be refined and shipped to Baltimore to fuel my car, and Amazon to replace my James Bond Blu-Ray collection in 48 hours??

    There are valid discussions to be had over the appropriateness of how the highways were originally built (we have a local “highway to nowhere” that was stopped mid-project way back when, and that honestly never should have been started), the extent to which any of these individual examples is a good or bad thing, whether the pendulum has swung too far, and whether the interstate system will even at some point no longer be necessary given the growth in other alternatives (drones don’t need no stinking highways!). But “highways are bad, defund them and force people to live in apartments and take public transit”? That’s just the kind of simplistic “analysis” that gives liberals a bad name.

  3. I agree too.

    When we bought our first house it was in a neighborhood that was right next to the highway (separated by a rather large wall). At closing the realtor for the little old lady that was selling the house was telling us that she had a house in the neighborhood on the other side of the highway when they were building 75/85 right through Atlanta. I think she said the government offered her $40K because the houses on her side of the street were being taken for the highway. She seemed fine with it, she said she took that money and bought a little bungalow on the other side of town.

    There are quite a few nice Buckhead neighborhoods that are literally right next to the highway because the highway came after the neighborhoods. In fact when we were looking for our current house we only really looked at 2 or 3 neighborhoods because they were the only ones that my husband deemed far enough away.

  4. “I agree with the author.”

    I admit, I am stunned. Is it the “give the power back to the states” thing?

    Honestly, I think the interstate highway system is probably the single largest thing the federal government has done, at least in recent memory, to support economic growth. I thought the liberal/conservative line would cut the other way, i.e., this is an example of “good” federal investment because it supports growth, whereas the liberal line would be that highways are bad because they support suburban sprawl and make transit inefficient.

  5. But “highways are bad, defund them and force people to live in apartments and take public transit”?

    That’s the free market small government solution. And not public transport, a private system of street cars like existed until most US cities. The famous Los Angeles Railway was privately owned for most of its existence:

  6. “That’s just the kind of simplistic “analysis” that gives liberals a bad name.”

    Interestingly, the author is conservative/libertarian.

  7. LfB – that early line made me suspicious, too, but I think he’s more writing about how they should be financed and controlled in the future, not that they shouldn’t exist.

    Now, if he had been trying to go all new-Urbanist, anti-McMansion, anti-yard, everyone-should-want-an-urban-life, I’d be right there with you.

    ———–

    Posted that on the wrong thread, see your response. Yeah, it did cross my mind that we now have one of those debates that can reverse the typical left/right divide.

    I disagree with the author for hating them, and I like your point that economic development is not evil, and logistics are a big part of development. I just like the author’s points about financing and managing them in the future. Yeah, less federal control is generally a good thing, but also things like charging per mile rather than per gallon is good. (As long as we have EZ Passes to make it simple, I might get more engineer’ish and write a formula that charges per vehicle*pound mile, with appropriately weighted coefficients on those variables–vehicle would definitely be the dominant variable, but a Corolla would still be slightly cheaper than an F-250, simply because weight is a factor in road wear.)

  8. looks like I missed a great topic yesterday!

    off topic: DS had new tubes in yesterday and adenoids out AND allergy testing. he was feeling so awful yesterday after, but is much better today and already wanting to run around (which the doctor said to restrict a few days). Has this guy met my son?

  9. Milo, in Colorado, vehicle registration fees are based partly on the weight of the vehicle.

    Here’s a factoid I found fascinating when I was visiting my dad in Arizona. I-19 (I think it is) that goes from Tuscon to Nogales is the only section of interstate highway that is marked in km rather than miles. It was built in the 70s when we were planning to switch to the metric system so they figured they’d just do it in km, and then we never made the switch. The estimate is a couple million dollars to redo it in miles, so they’ve left it.

  10. If you put tolls in then you’d have the fast food owners and corporations up in arms…

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/04/us/agreement-on-interstate-repair-needs-but-not-on-how-to-pay-for-them.html

    Georgia put in toll lanes (you have to have a EZ Pass to travel in them) with dynamic pricing a few years ago (price goes up to travel in them with more traffic). However, they lose money every year after the cost of operations, but they claim that’s ok because the point wasn’t to make money, it was to manage traffic, which seems crazy to me not to at least break even.

    http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304607104579212091525525038

  11. The author says we should hand back interstates to the states.
    Because handing things over to Sam Brownback in Kansas has worked out so well. I-70 will come to a screeching halt at the Kansas-Missouri border and you’ll take a covered wagon to the Colorado border. Same thing with I-35–a covered wagon from Missouri to Oklahoma.

  12. DD, just wanted to say that I share your feelings about Toyota and Toyota Financial from yesterday’s thread.

    I love my car, but I would never buy another vehicle from them.

    In our case, they tried to get us to pay for thousands in unnecessary repairs after the warranty ended – the car had less than 50k on it and was running fine. We got suspicious and took it to an independent mechanic before agreeing to the repairs, and he confirmed we were right. Some of the suggested repairs involved parts that weren’t ever on our car, because the car was designed not to include them.

    Complaints to corporate got us an apology letter. Whoopee. The same conglomerate owns all the dealerships around here, unfortunately.

    In retrospect I should have called the local prosecutor, but they have enough work anyway :)

  13. “Just raise the gas tax already!”

    No way. Primary season is well underway right now, not going to happen. 2016 is an election year, so that’s out. There might be a small window to get it done in 2017. Maybe. Or it may likely take a backseat to the new President’s First Hundred Days priorities–they can only focus on one thing at a time. After that, you’ve got midterms to think about.

  14. I reminded my husband that his post is running today so maybe he’ll get on the non-secured computer and read the discussion.

    For myself, I think that author is delusional in daydreaming about an alternative history where the interstates were never built. We would be about the only developed country not connected by a system of major roads, if that were the case. As a non-driver, dude doesn’t really appreciate the difference between driving on an interstate and a state highway.

    I’m pretty sure that’s the same writer who’s such an Apple fanboy.

  15. I agree that the gas tax is unpopular, but the funds are needed. A toll will be equally unpopular, but it might be more marketable since it’s not called a tax. Utter nonsense.

  16. Houston,

    Here is my issue with tolls. It’s just one more thing to worry about. If it’s a cash toll, you need to have or get cash – a pain in the ass. If it’s a fastlane then when you get a fraud alert on your CC it’s just one more website you need to remember your username and password. How about you collect it at the pump or you just take it out of my check along with the money for everything else.

    What is the current fascination with burdening the public with ever more minutia? Ohhh!! HSA’s now you can comparison shop for all your healthcare! Ohhh!!! 401ks now you can be just like Warren Buffet!

  17. They are doing the express toll thing here on the highway from Denver to Boulder. The fundamental problem that nobody wants to admit is that people will only use tolled express lanes if the free lanes are congested. So the incentive is to keep the congestion on the free lanes so they can jack up the toll prices (it’s a dynamic pricing model).

    Sky, that’s insane. I can say that aside from the salesguy who sold me the warranty, I do feel that everyone involved has been honest with me.

  18. How I wish my father were alive. He worked for Caltrans from the 50s through late 80s. He’d have so much to say. He used to talk about Eisenhower ‘s vision of the Interstate system, and how commerce and defense would flourish, and how, to quote Donald Fagen, it would be all graphite and glitter, with spandex jackets — one for everyone. And by the 70s, he and all the other civil engineers were reviled and despised for the pollution and sprawl.

  19. Legal question:

    If I e-mail the sales guy and say – I just wanted to double check before I buy the extended warranty that it covers hinges and he responds back, “Yes, sir! 100%.” Is that binding?

  20. Oh poor misguided soul… the Feds need to keep control of the highways because the states can’t be left to themselves to work together on border issues.

    Do the highways (both state and federal) need repair/rebuild? Absolutely! The only way to do it fairly is a gas tax or tolls throughout the system. And then the money needs to not go to general funds. All the road repair money in RI ends up in the general fund, so when roads need repairs, there’s magically no money. It’s been used for something else.

    One thing that needs to be altered is the length of on-ramps… They don’t match with the highway speed anymore. If people got over to the middle lane upon seeing people enter the highway on the ramp, then it wouldn’t be an issue. But, in heavy traffic areas (even when traffic is moving at or above the posted speed limit), the drivers in the right lane don’t have room to move over.

  21. OMG MOAR GAS TAX

    That is my solution. Win-win since it will force the automakers to make more fuel-efficient cars. I suppose we could also do the miles-driven version.

    However all the tolls should be the NH or CA style: no stopping, just zip on through and they send you a bill if you don’t pay.

  22. Great topic. I don’t know much about highways and effects on urban areas, since much of the urban growth in western cities came after the interstate highway system, but divided highways are much safer than two-lane highways. We have at least a couple dozen deaths on local highways each year, most commonly because someone crosses over on a two-lane highway. It is my opinion that divided highways and associated safety features (grooved shoulders, reflective paint, large radius curves) are the primary cause of the decrease in highway deaths, and vehicle safety features (air bags, ABS) are at best secondary.

    Oregon has proposed and is testing a tax on miles driven, which I think is very sensible. The main objection to it is privacy concerns (government will use the installed device to observe that 99% of the population is going faster than 55 mph on Highway 20 in eastern Oregon and will give everyone speeding tickets). This concern is not entirely unfounded- our city installed red light cameras “for safety” and the newspaper reported that ~90% of the tickets are to drivers who make a right turn when the intersection is virtually empty without coming to a full and complete stop. Considering the camera is in a working class neighborhood, I view this as an unnecessary revenue grab by the government.

    I definitely agree that federal rules around interstates should be updated/loosened to allow for more local control. One of my objections to the proliferation of federal laws is that they are almost impossible to change when negative aftereffects become apparent. I was complaining about the illogic of turning corn into ethanol long before most laws mandating ethanol were passed. Our local paper had an article on the dramatically increased workload for district attorneys since police officers started wearing body cameras a year or two ago- someone has to review hours of video, in complex cases more than once, where previously they relied on written police reports. To me, this is an unintended (though maybe not bad) effect of police wearing cameras.

    Challenges of funding interstates (or other major divided highways) locally are abuse of imminent domain, the regressive nature of use tolls if working class people need to use a road to get to work at a particular time and there is no publicly funded option and the varying geography that makes road costs vary. We are struggling locally with a state highway that the state has tried to make safer (and which has been partially built for a few hundred million) but which may be unbuildable or unmaintainable since seismic shifting is so much greater than anticipated. You can add mountains and tons of rain to our seismic issues to realize our civil engineers have a more interesting job than those in Kansas.

    I suspect that government would do a better job of balancing the needs of lower income people with needs of upper income people when planning toll roads than a for-profit corporation would, but I don’t know this. An acquaintances works on managing utility rates for the state and they try very hard to balance the need for capital to maintain/update the utility grid with fluctuations in national gas prices to smooth the increases in utility bills for people budgeting month-to-month. To me, this is government at its best.

  23. We drove to Baltimore last week for the one night visit, and there are so many tolls. It is a very expensive trip, and the roads are not great even though the tolls are collected, and raised all of the time. The tolls create a lot of traffic too. Tolls are a part of life most of us in NY metro region, and they are very expensive. I would be happy to pay the NJ Turnpike toll if they would just expand the turnpike from two lanes in the southern part of the state. I just don’t believe that gas taxes or tolls would actually improve the roads unless someone could prove that the collected money was really being spent on specific roads.

    I drove 8000 miles with my friends after college when we toured the national parks out west. We were a bunch of kids from NJ/NY so we had money for tolls. We drove through ten states, and we only paid one toll in six weeks to cross the bridge in San Fran.

  24. “What is the current fascination with burdening the public with ever more minutia? Ohhh!! HSA’s now you can comparison shop for all your healthcare! Ohhh!!! 401ks now you can be just like Warren Buffet!”

    Because the “ownership society” has currently prevailed over the “nanny state” — people prefer the option to try to do better than average, even at the cost of drowning in administrivia. Same reason we have so many non-index funds. In another 20 years, people will be so overwhelmed by choice that the pendulum will swing back.

    Legal question: no, unless he works for the warranty company and is authorized to speak for them. OTOH, he totally opens up his dealership to a fraud complaint.

    “If people got over to the middle lane upon seeing people enter the highway on the ramp, then it wouldn’t be an issue.”

    OH GOOD GOD IN HEAVEN NO. I can’t tell you the number of times I have had to slam on the brakes or swerve into the left lane because someone in the right lane decided to move into the middle lane so they didn’t have to slow down for a merging car, and either didn’t bother to look in their rear-view mirror or just didn’t care. Merging is Just Not That Hard (or shouldn’t be, if people aren’t assholes about it). If you are on the main road, just maintain a steady speed until you see that they are going to go in front or behind, and then adjust accordingly. If you are merging, find the gap, and adjust your speed to hit it; if you have to slow/stop for visibility, do it at the beginning of the acceleration lane, so you have the whole distance to hit speed. (Although ITA that the cloverleaf makes things extra fun at current speeds and traffic loads).

    Gawd. My mother has begun the “passive-aggressive” merge, and it drives me totally guano. She just sort of goes her speed, accelerating to highway speeds at a glacial pace, and not even looking, and then when she hits the end of the acceleration lane, THEN she looks and either just sort of drifts over into the driving lane, or if there’s someone right there, continues on the shoulder until someone lets her in. This from the woman who taught me all of the stuff I just recited above, who would rant and rave about people who do EXACTLY WHAT SHE DOES NOW.

    Which, sadly, means that this is my future. Shoot me now.

  25. When I entered the civil engineering profession in the mid-late 90’s, I worked on state & local highway design projects in the metric system. It was a real PITA because all of the formulas for drainage and stormwater management calculations were in English units, so there was a lot of converting from cubic meters per second to cubic feet per second to acre-feet per hour to gallons per minute, etc.

    I’m also questioning the premise of the article that the federal government maintains the interstate system. I don’t have time today to research, but maybe someone else will be interested enough to do so. My understanding is that FHWA allocates funding from the Highway Trust Fund to the states, and of course the formulas for that allocation may be problematic. But I thought the state DOTs use the money to design/build/improve/maintain roads according to a prioritized schedule that they develop internally. (In VA, they sometimes give a town or city their portion of the money and let them make their own 6-year plans.) So the federal government is basically collecting & distributing the funds, but the states are dependent on those funds to get their basic needs met. Then they find more creative financing schemes (like private-public partnerships, dynamic tolls, etc.) to meet specific demands.

  26. I agree with the need to raise the gas tax. It is the most efficient solution and requires no creation of another bureaucracy to implement. Although not a huge fan of tolls, the new toll roads being built out in the far suburbs of Houston are a win for me. I’m one of eight cars driving in them, so can get where I need to go quickly and with minimal stress, and Dan use them to teach my apprentice driver how to drive on highways with out putting him on the crazy Houston highways.

  27. In another 20 years, people will be so overwhelmed by choice that the pendulum will swing back.

    I could totally see that happening.

  28. LfB – your mom may now have a stiff neck and can’t look over the lanes to see? (Particularly if there is an elevation difference as you come down the ramp, it is hard to use the mirror exclusively)

    I agree with Rhode. In some places now, like at the 128/90 interchange, they made the regular highway go down a lane and shifted the lanes to the left to make room for all the people merging on. Otherwise the people not moving over a lane would create a backup on the other highway as people waited to merge.

  29. @L — nah, not that I can see — she’s just dawdling on her merry way, and then, oops, guess I should check.

    I’m not sure whether it bothers me more because it’s unsafe or because it’s stereotypical “old lady” stuff. I mean, this is the woman who has always been the most competent person I have ever known, who runs her own company and still teaches, and who freaking runs 5Ks every weekend — and has less grey hair than I do to boot. And she’s getting old.

  30. “Every day, they put their lives on the line to preserve your right to acquire a basement full of powerful weapons to use on them should worst come to worst. Do I approve of everything the military does? No, of course not. Will I lurk in the woods, ambushing patrols of soldiers if necessary? Of course I will. But even if I take up arms against the troops, I will stand behind them.”

    OMG, Milo, this is the funniest thing I’ve read since Rocky’s last post. Freaking awesome.

  31. That’s what I thought, but when I posted it on FB, hardly any response. I got into a discussion with my uncle about Robert E. Lee.

  32. I seriously hope the pendulum swings back. We end up using our “choice” to choose things that lower the administrativa as much as possible, but even so it’s a lot of constant change to keep up with.

    I am with you, LfB, on the interstate issue. Also, as someone whose family has seen its share of financial setbacks, I am really opposed to making our very roads another thing that you can’t afford unless you are employed, have good enough credit for a credit card for automatic billing, etc. Public roads, public libraries, clean air and drinking water for all of us– I like living in an America that thinks those things are for everyone. Not just those who can budget for it. I remember the long periods of my childhood living paycheck to paycheck, and I’m still uncomfortable with all the places that want to automatically deduct things from my account. While our account balances are perfectly fine now, it triggers a reaction of scarcity to have it be so difficult to keep track of the various costs being silently removed.

  33. Oh, where to begin. Texas has highway districts that partly relies on the relationship between the local governments and the regional engineer to keep road construction rational and to a certain extent up with the amount of traffic. My city made a purposeful decision to NOT build/upgrade/expand roads because then people would NOT move here and it would stay a small town. Now we have God Awful traffic – no real loop, insufficent east-west roads, roads that are two lane each way that need to be 3 or 4 each way. Then, when we really needed to be building the local governments and the district engineer were at odds, so sometimes I think our road design was to purposefully screw us over. Just go down the road a bit to New Braunfels or San Antonio where the folks supported growth and the district engineer and the locals got along – so MUCH difference.

    The more gas efficient cars/trucks are or are electric the less gas tax is paid per mile driven. We pay much less tax per mile than we did 10-15-20 years ago, but have a lot more vehilces on the road. The miles driven is a PITA because if you drive in multiple states how the heck do you apportion it among the states? Please don’t make us keep the records long haul drivers have to to make sure each state gets its share!!!!

    Rant over….

  34. My city made a purposeful decision to NOT build/upgrade/expand roads because then people would NOT move here and it would stay a small town.

    “Keep the country country” is what it’s called here. I try to avoid ever driving between Kahuku and Haleiwa.

  35. Austin, does your city go for “traffic calming” measures as well? As far as I can tell, that means “make the road less driveable on a route many people take because it is the most logical way from here to there, because the people who live along the route bitched loudly enough.” It was very much in vogue here 10 or 15 years ago, resulting among other things in the world’s tiniest rotary — a rotary that had to be designed to allow buses to drive across its center because they couldn’t possibly stay on the road with such a small turn radius.

  36. “(grooved shoulders, reflective paint, large radius curves) ”
    WCE – those would be lovely… but they don’t exist in the state of RI… no grooved shoulders on I-95 that I can think of… I-95 has some wicked curves in RI (we call them army corps of engineer turns), and zero reflectors on/in the paint (from the DOT – the plows would just dislodge them or it’s too expensive to re-paint the roads). Welcome to a state that puts all the highway money into the general fund…

    “If you are merging, find the gap, and adjust your speed to hit it; ”
    LFB – don’t forget about the a-holes already on the road. I did exactly what you said, and just as I was in the travel lane from the acceleration lane, a truck decided he didn’t want to be behind me, accelerated and forced me on to the shoulder. He had plenty of room to go around me in the middle lane.

    “Of course I will. But even if I take up arms against the troops, I will stand behind them”
    With the barrel of the gun pointed at their backs?

  37. “Keep the country country”

    So it might be assumed that the promise of years of heavy-duty construction and the associated noise, traffic and dust would fill residents with dread.

    Not quite.

    “We live in New York City, honey,” said Michele Mongeluzo, 56, whose house sits on a rise just south of the parkway, offering an unobstructed view of the airport and the proposed construction site. “If you want country living, move to the country.”

    In interviews this week along the blocks closest to the airport, residents almost universally said that they not only had no trepidation about the construction but that they also actually welcomed it. Improvements, they said, were long overdue.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/31/nyregion/construction-plans-for-la-guardia-airport-dont-faze-its-neighbors.html

    We need more people like Michele Mongeluzo!

  38. The offending rotary:

    It is on a main drag running ocean to mountains, in an apartment-heavy residential area where it has shed its extra lanes but still has an intersection with a surface street carrying heavy traffic running perpendicular before it fades into a no-outlet residential street. In other words, it carries heavy traffic because it’s the main route, not because people are using it to avoid the main route.

    Anyone else have particularly stupid traffic design features to share? MA people, I have seen your “state route XXs” that cannot be navigated without a local guide as they require you to make about five turns per town just to stay on “Route XX” and the street signs say “Elm Street” rather than “Route XX.”

  39. “no real loop, insufficent east-west roads, roads that are two lane each way that need to be 3 or 4 each way”

    Now I know why a lot of RI-ers like Austin… it’s not the food, fun, and charisma of the city… it’s the roads! They are the same! :)

  40. “’Of course I will. But even if I take up arms against the troops, I will stand behind them’
    With the barrel of the gun pointed at their backs?”

    Well, that would be the most efficient way to win your rebellion.

  41. “Traffic calming” is all the rage right now here, too. It’s infuriating. “We’ll improve traffic by eliminating one lane, and then we’ll bump out the sidewalk into the right-hand turn lane. That’ll make traffic so much better!” Sigh.

  42. Rhett, it used to have no stop for the main drag and stop signs for the low-volume cross street, similar to other streets in the area. But if they wanted to go to a stop light timed to match up with those along the route, yes, that would be better. It’s too small to work right as a rotary.

  43. We have “traffic calming” here, too, including on my street. Perfectly nice, wide street, with just-barely-not-enough room to accommodate cars parked on both sides and two lanes of traffic. Which, basically, created the perfect inherent “traffic calming” features — you could generally drive straight through, but the little bit of built in natural slalom from the parked cars meant you didn’t really ever go more than 30 mph, and people just knew to take turns getting through when there were cars parked on both sides.

    But, no, my special snowflake neighbors apparently were concerned about cut-through traffic (yes, we do love living so close to the shops on the main drag; no, we cannot prevent other people from using our street to access said main drag). The traffic studies repeatedly showed no excess speeds, but Think Of The Children! Their persistence (and, I’m sure, relative affluence) ultimately convinced the Powers that Be to build traffic “humps,” a/k/a speed bumps that you are supposed to be able to go over at 25 mph.

    It SUCKS. People don’t know the difference between speed “humps” and speed “bumps,” so they come to a freaking screaming halt in the middle of the road, then eeeeeease over it, ever so slowly. It’s like the elephant and the mouse — as if this giant off-road Jeep Grand Cherokee is intimidated and overwhelmed by a 6″ high hill in the middle of the flat asphalt.

    So the end result is that the cut-through drivers are now more annoying than ever — because the people who actually live on my street know that YOU CAN GO MORE THAN 5 MPH OVER THE DAMN HUMPS.

    I’d say “rant over,” except I appear to be in a mood today, so no commitments.

  44. In fairness, our traffic calming is on the neighborhood streets that people have diverted to because they are faster than a major road. The road humps are stupid because the only thing they slow down is a tiny car, minivans, trucks, SUVs, etc can straddle them. This is Texas, so we have fewer of the tiny cars – at least what I see. But, they need to be cut to allow emergency vehicles to not be slowed down.

    We only have 1-2 rotaries that I know of and they are on streets that only have one lane each direction anyway, so I am not sure that they are even effective.

    However, we now have a bajillion bike lanes, which took some secondary roads from 2 lanes each way to a bike/parking lane each way and one lane of traffic. I see maybe 1-2 bikes per day on this particular road AND they took the bus off of it, which sucks because that means we know have to walk .5 miles to a stop, take the bus .5 miles out of the way to catch the bus that goes the way we need to go.

  45. I just realized, my rant wasn’t over either LfB. Wow! Traffic calming does NOT calm the drivers!

  46. There’s a roundabout here at a T intersection. For some reason they put stop signs rather than yield signs at each entry point, so it’s a three-way stop with a roundabout .

  47. Rhett, the pictures in your article are of larger circles. Like I said, this one is too small to work as intended. Larger vehicles can’t even stay in the lane because of the small turning radius, and if oncoming traffic is already entering the circle you can’t safely go because there’s not enough length for you to enter safely if it turns out they were planning to, effectively, take a left turn. Traffic flow got much worse after they put it in. I may be using the wrong term — traffic circle, rotary, roundabout, I thought they were all the same thing. But I’m not sure what your point is — that somehow it actually does improve traffic and I’m not recognizing its benefits? That slowing down traffic was a good thing?

  48. The new thing they’ve done in Denver is these blinking yellow left turn arrows. What the heck does blinking yellow mean? What happens is you get a green arrow while the main light stays red. Then the main light turns green and the arrow turns to blinking yellow. Then eventually the main light turns yellow, then they both turn red. I guess it’s supposed to mean that you can turn, unlike with a red arrow, but you don’t have the right of way, like with a green arrow. But why can’t they just have no arrow with the main green, which means the same thing and is what everyone knows.

  49. DD– I have lately seen a LOT of people confused by the straight green light from a lefthand turn lane. I think the very concept of right-of-way is being lost some days.

    LfB– We have old (tiny) streets, and everyone parks on the streets. In practice it means that if cars are coming from two directions, both cars need to slow and/or move off to the side near a driveway. It inherently slows people down. We have a few special snowflake neighbors who want to mandate parking on only one side of the street (and only facing in one direction) because they feel it would look “tidier.” I wish I were kidding.

  50. We’re getting a new interchange at an intersection that’s the primary entrance to campus off of a 4-lane divided highway. It’s currently the only signalized intersection in a 37-mile stretch, and it gets really clogged up on game days, graduation, move-in, not to mention the mini-rush-hours at 8 am & 5 pm. So they’re building a grade-separated configuration called a “diverging diamond.” I’ve only ever seen a diverging diamond at one interchange on I-64, and it’s really crazy – you feel like you’re driving on the wrong side of the road. Here’s a picture of one in Kansas:

    Also, roundabouts are all the rage here now.

  51. “because they feel it would look “tidier.””

    Snort. BOY would I be tempted to buy a big old junker and paint it pink and neon green.

  52. Our suburb has many roundabouts. They are awesome. It takes some getting used to but it has been well worth it. Even the old people have stopped complaining about them. They cost a lot, since they have a larger footprint than a stop sign.

  53. DD – Many people here do not know that green arrow is protected left and solid green light is turn at your own risk/yield to oncoming traffic, so they turn on solid green light. I kind of like the green arrow and blinky yellow arrow. Yellow does generally mean yield.

  54. SWVA – we have a few of those in flyover country. It is really strange to look at, but when you are driving on it doesn’t seem so crazy. It really does work and make the interchange move so much better. We also have the micro roundabouts that HM has. Most people continue to drive on the truck part, oh and also come to a full stop when in the circle even though they have a the right of way. On a happy note, when the city repaved our neighborhood streets they asked about calming measures (speed humps, narrower streets) and got a huge NO, so we continue to have nice wide streets and no road rage.

    DD – in Michigan they have (use to have?) a blinking red for the left turn. It made perfect sense. I also think the Michigan Left makes perfect sense, so I may not be a good judge of what works and doesn’t work!

  55. But I’m not sure what your point is — that somehow it actually does improve traffic and I’m not recognizing its benefits?

    I assume there was some pressure to do something – maybe from people living on the cross street, who knows. But, the options were stop signs, stop lights or a roundabout. You’re saying the stop lights would have worked better. However, to actually know you’d need to see them in action. The traffic studies seem to show that even small roundabouts works better than a light. Now, maybe they should have just kept the cross street stop sign…

  56. “I also think the Michigan Left makes perfect sense, so I may not be a good judge of what works and doesn’t work!”

    I assume that’s what we call the “Pittsburgh Left,” a/k/a first guy at an intersection turns left before the oncoming traffic goes.

    I am actually a big fan of any kind of rules that everyone could just agree on and follow, because it’s mostly people don’t follow the local norms that generates the road rage. Think about the classic road construction, two-lanes-going-to-one situation: some people follow the zipper merge approach, going to the merge point and then merging; others follow the “merge as soon as you reasonably can after the sign tells you that a merge is coming up.” Neither one of these approaches is either mandatory or forbidden. And yet most people feel very passionate about their approach and get angry at those who do it the other way — and feel entirely justified in those feelings. Why? Because the other folks aren’t doing it the “right” way — they aren’t doing it the way we were taught; they violated our expectations. But if everyone did it the same way, traffic would still be screwed up, but the anger threshold would be ratcheted way, way down.

    The places that I have seen that are the easiest to manage are the ones where everyone follows the same rules, written or unwritten. Like Germany: if you’re on the autobahn, get the bleep out of the left lane, period, or you will get run over. Or Kansas: on the few occasions I have driven through end-to-end, every single person I came up on was driving in the right lane, pulling out to the left only to pass. Or, believe it or not, Rome — it looks like a freaking madhouse, but everyone actually follows the same rules and knows the signals — it’s just that they aren’t the written rules or the actual traffic signals. But once we figured out what the “real” rules were, it was easy to drive reasonably and avoid an accident, because everyone was doing the same thing.

  57. It was a traffic calming measure, not a traffic flow improvement measure. In other words, the expressed intent was to slow down the traffic flow on the main drag street. Which it definitely did.

  58. I just had to call Iron Mountain for the first time. Shudder, it’s like calling the creepy headquarters of Corporate America.

  59. You know what our biggest “traffic calming” measure is? Those stupid new overhead signs on I-95. A not-exaggerated, not-at-all-atypical example: Tuesday, leave the house @3:50 for chiropractor. Hit 95 off of the 195 exit shortly before 4; traffic is close to a dead stop. We inch forward for about 2 miles, and then I see it: the new overhead sign, just N of Rt 100, announcing that 495 is 17 miles away and 17 minutes. Immediately after this sign, traffic speeds back up to normal. It took me 8 minutes to traverse what I usually make in 3 minutes, because people just have to brake and look at this sign, just on the off-chance that it might say something useful. But, hey, it slows traffic! I guess that makes it a success in someone’s book.

    Which goes back to “you get what you measure.” If the guy’s job is to slow traffic, and he manages to drop the average speed from 70 mph to 20 mph, then, heck, he’s probably in line for a big, fat bonus for overachieving. I want these people to be judged on how effectively they MAINTAIN a steady flow of traffic at a reasonable speed, thank you very much.

  60. LfB – Yes – when everyone follows the same rules, it is so much better. I have an exit that appears to be a nightmare because the exiting traffic must get out of the lane it is in or it will be forced back on the highway and the entering traffic must get into the same lane. This is a very congested location, but the “regulars” know that it is an every other car process and the flow is slow, but does not stop. When you get a “newbie”, the whole process comes to a complete halt until that driver is situation and the process can resume. Also, until recently with the new photo enforcement – yellow meant floor it and get through the light, unless the traffic is so backed up there is no room for you on the other side. If you stopped on yellow, you would get rear-ended.

  61. MAINTAIN a steady flow of traffic at a reasonable speed,

    And by reasonably speed I mean what is considered reasonable in NJ. I want the average right lane cursing at a typical NJ like 85-90.

  62. Michigan Left is when you have to make a right turn and then make a left. On paper it doesn’t make sense, but it works….on heavily travelled rush hour roads you don’t have to wait forever to get that last turn in. It also requires the road to have a median big enough for grass, trees, and flowers, so it looks pretty.
    I’ve been known to do the Pittsburgh Left. You snooze you lose.

  63. “And by reasonably speed I mean what is considered reasonable in NJ. I want the average right lane cursing at a typical NJ like 85-90.”

    Damn, that was such a good Freudian slip I wasn’t even sure it was one. :-)

    Personally, I agree. But in an attempt to be a moderate, sober grown-up who is sometimes not an asshole, I will basically say that I don’t care how slow you drive — as long as you are IN THE RIGHT LANE.

    I even halfway mean it, too.

  64. Update on airline rebooking my minor child on a flight she was not eligible for – Continue to deny any responsiblity and blame software that rebooks passengers when it sees an overbooking or other flight problem. They called yesterday asking if my child ever used their ticket as when they did the research on my complaint, it showed her ticket as unused. Well, do you think I would be nearly this calm if she had not made it home 10 days ago? We were sent a $200 voucher for flights in the next year. I hate to admit we will likely use it as she wants to go back to the camp and will still be too young to travel on most other airlines. But, she and I now have better information to avoid this issue in the future.

  65. The Pittsburg Left and RI Left are brothers. It gets so bad here that the oncoming traffic allows the car to turn even when the RI Left is unneeded.

    I also noticed that people like to run reds. Not running when the light is transitioning to red, running when the lights been red for a few seconds. Today I counted 3 cars running the red at a single light cycle. The right-of-way traffic slowly inched out trying to stem the tide.

  66. I always love the Miami specialty of making a right hand turn from the left-hand lane. More respect is granted for doing that from three or more left lanes. If done right, you’ll think a plane has landed in front of you.

    Then there is the Miami Left Hand turn. Stay in the right lane. When the guy stops in the intersection to make a left turn, pull in front of him. It is most effectively done in the intersections with cameras. As the guy who pulls in ahead makes the left on yellow, you receive a photo of your car in the intersection on red.

    On a two lane road, I like signaling for a left turn, then having some person behind me pass on the left. If they are polite, they will at least honk at me. Normally, they will just give me the finger as they fly by.

    The only rule that we have down here is that if there is any space in front, behind, on either side, somebody will be there.

  67. “My city made a purposeful decision to NOT build/upgrade/expand roads because then people would NOT move here and it would stay a small town.”

    California chose that approach and doubled down to include all infrastructure including water storage. It is working out wonderful for us.

  68. PTM,

    The best part of Florida is the passing lane can be the left, right or middle lane depending on ….who knows what.

  69. Feast or famine Murphy,

    Rhett,

    That is the climate here. We get floods or drought. We don’t have normal winters, we tend to to have very wet, wet, average, dry, critically dry winters. The state’s plumbing system is set up because most of the precipitation falls in the north, most of the people live in the south, and the rainy season is in the winter, most water us occurs in the summer.

    Although I have my fingers crossed for a big El Nino, they were forecasting the same thing a year ago…

  70. We still need the infrastructure to deal with the flood waters.

    Im holding out for a private sector solution.

  71. “Michigan Left is when you have to make a right turn and then make a left. ”

    Doesn’t this just put you in the same direction on a parallel street?

    As I tell my kids, three rights make a left, but two wrongs don’t make a right.

  72. SWVA Mom-Are you referring to the Zion Crossroads exit on 64? I find that new traffic pattern very confusing.

  73. Rhett, I learned the right hand turn from the left hand lane from a friend. We were taking our sons to a Dolphins game last year. On a four lane highway (each direction) a big green on the right said, “SunLife Stadium” or whatever Steve Ross was calling Joe Robbie Stadium last year.

    My buddy hit the accelerator and got into the left hand turn lane. I said something like, “Whoa. The stadium is over there, on the right, where all the parking lots are.” He said, “I know.” and waited for his green left hand turn arrow and honking at cars making a left from the opposite direction glided past three lanes of traffic. A couple of cars followed us.

    I was a little pissed because our kids were in the car, but unlike most folks down here, my friend was born, raised and presumably learned to drive down here.

    There are rules, I guess.

  74. HM, is that a standard size rotary/roundabout? I think the one is Salt Lake is about that size, and there’s one in Kailua that might be even smaller.

  75. “Just raise the gas tax already!”

    One thing that really impressed me back in 2008 was Obama’s response to questions of suspending the federal gas tax. Hillary and others were enthusiastically in favor; Obama was the only one said he wouldn’t because it wouldn’t be good policy.

    “I agree that the gas tax is unpopular, but the funds are needed. A toll will be equally unpopular, but it might be more marketable since it’s not called a tax. Utter nonsense.”

    Call it a road maintenance surcharge.

  76. “The only way to do it fairly is a gas tax or tolls throughout the system.”

    As has been pointed out in the article and elsewhere, with increasing numbers of electric vehicles and very fuel-efficient vehicles, a gas tax is becoming a less fair way of taxing road use. Tolls are more fair, IMO.

  77. “Im holding out for a private sector solution.”

    If you are really interested, try reading “Taming the Inland Sea” by David Kennedy. While the private sector solution was interesting, it wasn’t a stable equilibrium.

  78. “As long as we have EZ Passes to make it simple, I might get more engineer’ish and write a formula that charges per vehicle*pound mile, with appropriately weighted coefficients on those variables–vehicle would definitely be the dominant variable, but a Corolla would still be slightly cheaper than an F-250, simply because weight is a factor in road wear.”

    And while they’re at it, use the same system to charge bicycle owners for their contribution to road wear. Send the bill when the charges exceed the amount to cover the cost of generating and mailing the bill and processing a payment.

    Then I’ll have a comeback whenever someone complains that cyclists don’t pay their share of road maintenance costs.

  79. “Michigan Left is when you have to make a right turn and then make a left. ”

    Doesn’t this just put you in the same direction on a parallel street?

    As I tell my kids, three rights make a left, but two wrongs don’t make a right.

    Finn, I had to Google it. It’s actually a right turn and then a U-turn to go back to the left.

    I like the New Jersey jughandles.

  80. Yes, a uturn. I should have been more clear. You can tell who are from out of town when you approach the intersection and a car either makes the illegal left or crosses all lanes of traffic to make that right turn….but from what PTM writes, that sounds like a typical Florida driver.

  81. Hi from Vancouver. I haven’t had a chance to read through all of this, but one highway related comment – Canada is as under-highwayed in the West as it is in the East. Vancouver, which is a major metropolitan area that stretches for miles along the Fraser, and looks like Hong Kong in several spots, has one friggin’ highway, which completely bypasses most of the city in favor of turning north to Whistler!!! Since we are staying outside of the city due to the crazy high prices (yes, blame the Hong Kong investors), we are spending much of each day driving for miles on dinky city streets. I know they put in the Trans Canada Highway about a zillion years ago, before Vancouver became China-in-North-America, but can’t they build another liitle highway? I saw the same problem in Quebec City. Is this some Canadian thing, that you can’t build any highways since the Trans-Canada?

  82. I finally took a better look at the RIDOT/Apponaug link I posted before. It’s official… RI-ers will not be able to handle this. The plans use 2 lane roundabouts. Sounds simple enough but people in the “straight only” lanes are going to try to enter the roundabout (making a left) while the people in the “straight/left” lanes are legally entering the roundabout. In short 2 cars will try to be in the same lane at the same time. Traffic will come to a halt. I think if they don’t have lane markers it may work better – sounds counter-intuitive, I know – but there’s one like that on Cape Cod and it seems to work as well as it can.

  83. I’ve never been to Vancouver, but my experience with Windsor is similar. Windsor isn’t a big town, but it is a major international crossing. The bridge to Canada from Detroit is an exit right off of I-75. When you cross over to Canada is spits you off onto a city road and you take that for a few miles before catching the 401. I’ve never understood this. It is is the busiest Canada/US crossing and you are taking a city road to it? That being said, Canada is funding the US money for a second bridge because the US won’t pay for it, yet Canada won’t make a highway. You might be right Mooshi – once the Trans-Canada was complete they said “are work here is done.”

  84. We went to Calgary and Banff a few years ago and the highways were just fine there.

  85. Toronto reminds me of Austin. Two cities that are very popular, and experiencing a ton of growth without the roads to support all of the people. Result is traffic all of the time.

  86. The Cape Cod rotaries work ok – the biggest problem is the people who do not know how to drive on them (which apparently since they are now spreading across the country should get better). The Sagamore Bridge works way better since they took that rotary out. This summer, I got stuck for a long time getting off 25 because of that rotary before you get onto the Bourne Scenic Highway, but had no problems going over the actual bridge.

  87. Sheep Farmer – Yes! I take that exit pretty regularly and this new configuration confuses me every time. Especially at night when headlights are coming at you on the wrong side of the road. It’s supposedly very efficient at handling a lot of traffic, but I won’t believe that until I see it function on gameday at the main entrance to VT.

  88. Y’all are making me really happy I don’t own a car!

    PTM – that is the best description of Miami driving I have ever seen. I hate driving down there. My one and only true car accident (spinning on ice and fender taps excluded) was in Miami. Both cars were totaled (no one was hurt).

  89. Calgary has half the population of metro Vancouver and is far more spread out at the same time.

  90. ” It’s actually a right turn and then a U-turn to go back to the left.”

    There’s a new bike lane that was implemented here recently, and the City & County government, which implemented it, recommended cyclists using the lane execute this maneuver to make left turns.

    The problem is, U-turns are illegal here unless expressly allowed. The C&C did not install any such signage, so they were encouraging cyclists to execute illegal maneuvers.

    The worst part is that the C&C giving advice to break the law was not a surprise.

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