Chapter 02
Exciting New Driving Rules

School Zones Don't Count Anymore, But Pedestrians Do

Driving is a slow process in the city. The streets are narrow and crowded, you can never go more than 30mph. 20 feels like speeding. Pedestrians just walk or jog or bike at any old crosswalk. If you don't stop, you kill one. Turning right or left has additional hazards. If you have a passenger, have him/her watch for the people and bicycles. The only advantage is that you don't have to sweat the school zones. Limit 20 mph? Pshaw. You can't go faster than that anyway.

Pedestrians have the right of way and they know it. Turning right or left, you always have to check for ped xers. Even going straight, they are going to walk and expect you to stop. If they're standing on the curb, maybe they won't cross in front of you. If they put a foot into the street, into the crosswalk, they are going to go and they expect you to stop. If you don't, thud.

Kamikaze bicycles are entirely different. They behave like vehicles most of the time, but behave like pedestrians when it serves them to do so. Bikes go down the bike lane, except when a car pulls out in front of them or the driver opens a door without looking. Then they swerve right in front of me driving past them. And sometimes they do sidewalks if it's convenient and there are no cops around. A friend here was hit rather badly last year by a bicycle going the wrong way on a one-way street. You check the oncoming traffic, step off the curb, and Bam! get blind-sided by a nutcase going the wrong way. Warning: there are *lots* of one-way streets here. Worse, the other day during morning rush hour, I watched a young woman riding her bike (a) on the sidewalk, (b) going the wrong way on a major one-way street, and (c) texting on her phone in her right hand. Incredible that she didn't run over anyone. I note, also, (d) without a helmet, so maybe she will be culled from the population before she reproduces. Never mind inconsiderate. Dangerous.

Oh, and did I mention the skateboarders in the bike lanes?

Pedestrians do have their uses, though. If you're trying to make a turn and there is a constant line of opposing traffic, you can sit there all day waiting for someone to let you in. In this case, a pedestrian can be your friend. One person steps off the curb into the crosswalk and traffic stops. Voila! A hole! Make the turn! This is especially effective during rush hour, when the cars are crazy but there are lots of walkers. If one pedestrian blocks the oncoming car to your left, you can make a right turn. To make a left turn out of a side street requires two well-timed pedestrians, one on each side of the intersection.

When I first moved here forty years ago, there was a very funny piece in one of the weekly free papers, either the Boston Phoenix or The Real Paper, about pedestrian traffic. A student's father comes to town for the weekend. Walking across the street, Dad is appalled about how people just walk between the cars and in front of the cars without looking or stopping. The son says, "Oh, don't worry dad, they always stop." At the end of the weekend, the son is driving dad's car through the worst of the traffic and one way systems. Dad is appalled at how the son just plows thru intersections, worries that he'll hit a pedestrian. But the son says, "Oh, don't worry Dad, they always stop." Ta-dum.

Running red lights is a sport here, too. Often one or two cars will go thru the light after it changes to red, especially if it is a short light with a long line of cars backed up. Not all that different from other places. But running lights at 20-30 mph is different from Texas, where they run lights at 45-50 mph. Getting T-boned by a car going 20 is different and almost survivable. So one always looks both ways before proceeding across an intersection, if one is the first car in line, to see who is going to run the light and kill you. In Texas, in the last three years I was there, I watched two people get T-boned really badly, in both cases the car right in front of me. Kapow! Incredibly, no one was killed, or even seriously injured, in either of these incidents. In both of these cases, the driver who ran the light wasn't even looking at it, didn't think about stopping, just blazed on through. Well, part way through. Until the other hunk of steel and plastic got in the way. Haven't seen one here yet, though. But it's still early. We've been here only a few weeks.

Speaking of really cool speed limits, I hear that, during floods, New Orleans now has no-wake areas, just like marinas, where going more than 5 mph causes wakes that might flood nearby houses.