June 15, 2006

Wow, They Drive Very Badly…

Filed under: Portland, Portland Traffic — Tom @ 11:44 pm

I don’t think it’s their fault. The Portlanders have never really had to be on their game when it comes to driving. Back in Chicago, if you weren’t paying attention some taxi would run you off the road or you’d get jacked with a tire iron in a road rage incident. It was a challenging driving environment — narrow city streets, heavy traffic, non-existent parking.

Here is… different. I’ve gotten flipped off for parallel parking — the idea of turning on my signal to indicate parallel parking, pulling in front of the space, then backing into it was apparently totally alien and this guy pulled right up behind me. (Note that he did not honk. No one in Portland honks. Except me.)

Left turns at stoplights cripple traffic flow. If there’s a right turn lane, many Portlanders won’t go around people waiting to turn left. They’ll sit quietly in line, possibly forever. I got stuck five cars back behind someone who was unable to execute a left-hand turn. They wouldn’t pull forward into the intersection so they’d miss their chance to turn on the yellow, and no gap was big enough during the green. I was blocked in by parked cars — only the first two cars had access to the right-turn lane to go around the left-turner. We sat there for three cycles of the traffic light before the person managed their left turn. Quietly. Patiently. No horns. In Chicago, I think they’d definitely have gotten the tire iron from someone after the second green light expired.

I’m not saying this is a bad thing. A city of mostly pleasant, patient drivers? You’d think it’s a dream come true. Certainly I’m happy to be away from the callous, perpetually-angry nutjobs behind the wheels in Chicago. But it’s created a lax driving style out here that just drives me crazy. And not in a good, Fine Young Cannibals kind of way.

The other day, I came across something that was bizarre even for Portland.

Portland has controlled-access at freeway entrances during rush hour. So you drive down the entrance ramp to two lanes, each with their own stop light. And these lights turn green at short intervals to space out the traffic that flows into the freeway. Personally, I think this is a good thing although many other transplants I’ve met complain about this. In Chicago these things were seldom seen and always ignored. But here people line up, obey the signals and traffic rolls onto the freeway in an orderly manner.

When I go to work, my route takes me down a long straightaway up to the freeway ramp. So I was able to see from about 1/4 mile back that this pick-up truck had stopped right on the line dividing the two access-control lanes. He’s managed to position himself perfectly in between the two lanes (and their sensors in the pavement) and the lights in both lanes are red. I drive to the entrance ramp and pull up behind.

I honk. Nothing. I honk again. Still nothing. Now there are two cars behind me. (I’m assuming they’re natives, because they did not honk. Of course, it’s possible they just felt that I had the honking under control.) So I pull around the truck, partly in the access lane and partly on the hard shoulder next to the concrete barrier. I look over and the guy in the truck looked at me, genuinely puzzled.

I wanted to find some way to communicate, to mime out that there’s a magnetic sensor in the pavement and it controls the light and you’re not on it and should probably just go, go, go, ignore the programming that’s telling you to stay put, ignore the bright red eye and just drive, drive like the wind, you magnificent bastard! And instead, I kind of shrugged.My light went green and I took off down the ramp.

And the truck got smaller and smaller and faded from sight in my rear-view mirror, motionless the entire time.


  1. Tom,
    What are the comparative contrasts between Indiana, Chicago and Portland’s driving?

    Comment by Debbie — January 24, 2007 @ 5:03 am

  2. Traffic control lights at freeway on ramps are a curse. Admit it Chicagoboy.

    Comment by Dan — January 31, 2007 @ 8:21 pm

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