Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Driving differences between Charlotte and Boston

I knew there would be significant differences between Charlotte roads and Boston roads. Boston has a well-deserved reputation for aggressive drivers, and getting a car there after not driving regularly for over 10 years was a baptism of fire. Compared to that, driving in Charlotte feels like being on training wheels. As an example, let's take the intersection of I-74 and Sam Newell. It's a four-lane road meeting a two-lane road. And it takes 4 minutes for the light to go through its cycle. Encounter another 3 of those intersections and it can take over 15 minutes to travel 2 miles. Why does it take so long for the light to cycle on such small roads? Because there is an explicit green-left-arrow for left turning vehicles that preceeds the general green light -- and left-turning cars are usually given a red-left-arrow during this step, guaranteeing that there will be a large build-up of cars waiting to turn left when they next get their chance. Over all, it's much calmer than Boston, in which the left turning cars would just watch for a break in oncoming traffic and gun it. Given that the total cycle in Boston is usually less than a minute, you're guaranteed that at least one car will get to make a left turn (actually 2 or 3 are guanteeed to make it, given Boston's drivers' tendency to pull forward and block the intersection) each minute. I'm not sure if the hand-holding is a good idea, but Charlotte implements it well. While north-south traffic is making left turns, the east-west traffic is given an explicit green-right-arrow. (The only issue here is that U-turning traffic has to yield.) So this leads to the biggest surprise: given all of the above, you would expect Boston drivers to be more patient about making a red light, since they will get another chance very soon, and that Charlotte drivers would be more impatient, since it'll be a while before they get their turn. But of course that's wrong. Boston drivers will go through a red light a whole 2 seconds after it's changed, while Charlotte drivers will (mostly) sit back and gladly wait 4 minutes for their next chance. Guess things are just more mellow here.


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