I’m in New York City without my pen-and-paper journal, so I suspect I’ll post some musings about the trip over the next few days. Why not? Reading over this blog, I like some of the early travelogues the best.
But until then, a brief thought about Maryland drivers, courtesy of a senior traffic engineer who worked in both the District and Prince George’s County. His explanation for the disregard given pedestrians is simple: “Maryland has no cities and therefore no municipal laws about pedestrian safety. Therefore, drivers are not sensitized by local regulations.”
It is strange that the urban counties around D.C. have not passed such laws, but they haven’t. The explanation does have the benefit of comparing like-with-like.
There is one other possibility: the District, unlike, say, New York or Chicago, has gone out of its way to suburbanize traffic signals. For example, streets that look just like someplace in downtown Brooklyn will force pedestrians to wait for left turn signals ... even from one-way streets. Cars with D.C. plates (to further cite my traffic engineer friend) are likely driven by relatively upper-income people who also spend much time as pedestrians; they will therefore be more respectful than suburban drivers who (unlike somebody from Long Island driving into Queens) neither spend much time on foot nor have to adopt a different driving style when in the city.
I admit to a preference for non-cultural explanations, because they are falsifiable, so I like this one.
I also asked him about all the honking in the DMV. The difference with New York is striking. For three days I have been driving all over the counties of New York, Kings, Queens, and Nassau, plus the trip here and a long stop in Philly. Since leaving the Beltway the only horn sounds I have heard since then was (a) at a turnpike exit in New Jersey; (b) directed at me; and (c) thoroughly deserved.
So why the honking?
Well, that, he says, is cultural. “That is the District and Virginia too. People scoring self-importance points. Drives everyone nuts.”