Police in Prince William County, VA just released a list of the most dangerous intersections and I discovered that on a single trip to Chantilly I managed to drive through the most dangerous intersection in Manassas, the most hazardous in Manassas Park and the third most threatening in the rest of the county.
This is because I live in the land of “you can’t get there from here.” Northern Virginia residents have only a very limited number of through streets and major thoroughfares. Drivers are forced to crowd into a handful of routes when they want to go east or west and even fewer when they want to go north. Any tourist ever stuck on I–95 knows what I’m talking about.
There is no way to plan a route avoiding dangerous, packed intersections because there are no alternatives. Much of this can be blamed on what I call the Stonewall Jackson school of traffic engineering: “Why Stonewall whipped the Yankee’s behind using this very road network. There is no need to improve on perfection.”
In effect this means replacing a one–lane corduroy road with a winding two–lane asphalt design is viewed as a technological breakthrough rivaling that of the flush toilet.
And it’s not going to get any better where I live.
County planners are in the process of approving a 22–acre mixed use development that will have 360 apartments, two hotels and an office building. And oh yes, there will be only a single exit from the development linking it to neighboring roads.
Once more state and local government succeeds where national government and Richard Branson failed. The county and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) have managed to monetize space. The right to drive into or out of a parcel of land makes it extremely valuable, because curb cuts are rationed tighter than ethics at a GSA convention. Gaining permission for that vital absence of concrete curbing often requires a lobbyist.
I’m sure the thinking here was you can drain a bathtub with a single exit, why not a real estate development? Yet the same planners would not approve a movie theatre with one exit and they wouldn’t approve a shopping mall interior with a single exit either. Maybe we should give the fire marshal authority to approve road and development design. Installing a sprinkler system in your car would be a small price to pay for more efficient transportation.
Fortunately, due to cul–de–sac laden, backward road design theory, most of the crashes here are low speed encounters. According to a press release from TomTom, the GPS people, the Washington, DC area has the most congested traffic and slowest average speeds in the nation.
Many drivers serve a positively organic role in the Capitol’s traffic circulatory system, functioning as automotive plaque that clogs the artery and slows us down.
I recently returned from a trip to Dallas and traffic there was a revelation. At 4 PM on Friday I was driving down LBJ Freeway and Central Expressway, two major thoroughfares that are packed daily with rush hour traffic. Auto density was the same as on I–95, but guess what? I was moving at speeds in excess of 40 mph! I felt like a Swiss neutron racing the speed of light.
What’s more, I passed two sets of parked police cruisers with their lights flashing and traffic did not grind to a complete halt. I know this is hard to believe for DC drivers, because here any blinking light more intense than a turn signal has a tendency to stupefy motorists. The sun glinting off a jack handle while changing a flat, the reflection from a trooper’s radar detector or shiny bling worn by someone waiting for AAA all cause motorists to immediately hit the brake.
The only hint of good news regarding our congestion is the number of teenagers who don’t have or want a driver’s license is at an all time low. Unfortunately, those with a new license are going to be just as incompetent as the rest of their family. This is because in Virginia getting a driver’s license no longer requires actual driving in a car with a grim state trooper waiting for you to make a mistake.
Instead teenagers are supposed to drive for 40 hours with their parents beside them and follow parental advice. Later, when they get the coveted license, teenagers can boast: “I drive whatever speed I like in left lane, just like peepaw.” “I always slow down when a car is stopped on the shoulder. It might be Uncle Tran.” “Mom says leave three car lengths between me and the car ahead at a stoplight, in case I start to roll while texting.” Or “Like granny, I always brake when approaching a green light, because you never know.”
And driving incompetence, with its accompanying congestion, will be passed down from generation to generation just like a genetic abnormality.