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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Issues of time

Many of our driving frustrations involve time and our real or perceived lack of it.  I say this because when readers or I express displeasure with others’ driving behavior, it’s often because those drivers are unfairly, illegally, or unnecessarily detaining us.

Whether the offending irritation stems from slow vehicles detaining long strings of traffic, left-lane rolling roadblocks, drivers who won’t take “free” right turns on red, vehicles not departing quickly when the light changes to green, or some other progress-stymieing act, we all hate to be held-up against our will. 

One defense for this is to not actually be in a hurry.  Try to depart for your destination at a time that allows an extra margin of minutes to get there.  Drivers who won’t dim their high beams will still distract you, and tailgaters may raise ire, but those who impede your progress should not be an aggravating issue.

Don’t perceive a lack of time if you really have plenty.  If you are in no real hurry, you should be able to adopt a Zen approach to inevitable delays.  That should allow you to simply take a deep breath and listen to music on the radio while you sit in traffic, because you still have plenty of time to get to work, a dinner date, or whatever.

I’ll admit that I am still slightly perturbed when hitting several red lights in a row.  I’m working on that adverse reaction, though, and it’s a lot easier to do if I am not pressed for time.  I consciously practice being at ease during traffic holdups, reminding myself that I’m not in a rush, and that the holdup is minimal and inconsequential.

Actually, stop lights should not be a big deal even if you are pressed for time, since most red light durations are only about one minute, and even the longest ones rarely hold cars for two minutes.  We just have to train ourselves to not perceive a rush and to not resent the momentary delay.

Nevertheless, red lights will never be met with pleasure, especially if drivers feel they are not timed or regulated properly.  An example of this comes from reader D.J., who wrote, “I have been stewing for years at the timing of the lights in Coeur d’ Alene.  Let’s say you’re cruising down govt way by the silverlake mall in the early morning.  All of a sudden the light turns red, that’s because there is a car a block away on Hanley that tripped the light. So he stops all the traffic on a major arterial for one car.  Then he turns right anyway, so the stopping of the traffic was for nothing.  The side street should have to wait before the light changes.  The way it is now creates confusion and anger and is also dangerous. The lights should not change so quickly.”

Evidently, traffic light programs designed in an office may have shortcomings in the real world.  It seems they should be designed to accommodate the majority of traffic, but, as D.J says, often cater immediately to the single pedestrian or vehicle on the cross street.

I commiserate with D.J. to a degree.  I have a light near my home that is green for arterial traffic almost perpetually.  But when a vehicle on a small cross street appears, it triggers the light instantly, stopping arterial traffic.  The same thing happens when a pedestrian there pushes the crossing button.

D.J. has a valid point — it might be better from a driver warning standpoint to delay the vehicle/pedestrian on the smaller cross street for about 30 seconds before triggering the green light.  That way, drivers on the busy arterial would have additional time to recognize them, and allow for the possibility of the arrival of a second vehicle or pedestrian, letting them both cross on the same green and stopping arterial traffic only once.

For D.J., a complaint to the Idaho DOT could be in order, but avoiding those potentially annoying routes might be easier.  Simply choosing an alternate route when encountering aggravating/unsafe driving locations is a stress-reliever I like to practice.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at