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Travel Troubles Here and Abroad

After spending the past week in Mexico City's chaotic traffic, it will take a moment to crank back up to outrage about what we're traveling through here. The freestyle driving techniques in the Mexican capital take your breath away. The rare traffic signal or stop sign is merely an advisory. Lane markings are silly things. Cars slow only for speed bumps on local streets or for the often impenetrable rows of halted vehicles on the highways.

Some of you must have had similar experiences in other cities' traffic. What ranks as the worst, and what did it take to restart your anger at our daily experiences in the Washington area?

Picking up the Sunday Post's front page and reading about the recent confrontations between Metrobuses and pedestrians was a good start. And looking at the results of the Virginia General Assembly's effort to produce a transportation improvement plan was a double shot.

The Virginia General Assembly passed House Bill 3202, but Gov. Tim Kaine is very likely to send back a heavily amended version for consideration by the legislature during its one-day session on April 4. If the legislation falls apart, many county supervisors in Northern Virginia will exhale in relief. They would have faced votes on raising local taxes to implement a key portion of the improvement plan.

The state legislators and the local supervisors keep lateraling this ball. No one wants to risk getting tackled by the voters before crossing the finish line with a really effective program.

In all the hubbub over the financing plan, it was hard to notice two bills that got through and likely will have an effect on Northern Virginians.

Red-light cameras: They're back, or they will be after Kaine signs the bill that will allow communities with 10,000 or more people to install cameras to catch drivers who run red lights.

Cellphone limit: Drivers who are 15, 16 and 17 will be barred from talking on their phones while driving.

I hope you can join me at 11 a.m. today for a Live Online discussion about these and any other transportation issues on your minds. (You can submit questions now, if you like, by clicking on this link.)

By 11, I'll have driven my car and taken a train, so that mellow feeling after Mexico City traffic should be a distant memory.

By Robert Thomson  |  February 25, 2007; 5:37 PM ET
Categories:  Commuting  
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Boston. How about a left turn from the far right (of 3) lanes? How about people merging into traffic with their hand held up to shield their view of said traffic?
Naples: No headlights, no windshiled wipers, no windshield but the horn works. Quadruple parking? Driving on the sidewalk? Making a U-turn in 6 lanes (3 in each direction) of jammed traffic?

Posted by: Stick | February 26, 2007 8:44 AM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: Stick, I think Boston would be in my top five traffic nightmares, too. Might have been my No. 1 until I saw Mexico City, where drivers smoothly execute right turns from the left lanes, without signaling or slowing. One surprise: Despite all the trick moves, there was very little horn blowing -- as though everyone accepted it. That would never happen here, right?

Posted by: Robert Thomson | February 26, 2007 10:21 AM | Report abuse

Actually Doc, it does happen hear, and it's usually on a car with a Mexican sticker. Good to know because now I'll avoid them more than I avoid a black Maryland license plate. It seems to me that if you have one of those plain black-and-white Maryland plates that you HAVE to do something stupid while on the road. I don't mean, change lanes without signal. I mean veer from the left lane across two lanes to the right lane, hold for two seconds, then veer over to the left middle lane...while signaling a left turn when going right and a right turn going left when there isn't a hint of an exit anywhere soon. Maybe if we started writing up more of these "piddly" offense tickets the roads would become safer.

Posted by: North Mexico | February 26, 2007 10:32 AM | Report abuse

The worst conditions I ever saw was in Dhaka, Bangladesh. No matter what time of day or night, there was always gridlock in the city and people driving scarily elsewhere. Lanes were suggestions, traffic cops were sometimes obeyed, and people drive where they want, laying on the horn at anything. Thankfully, I didn't have to drive there. I just got to sit in the back and pray for my car to not be hit too much. The State Dept employees sell their cars among the new arrivals since it means disaster to bring a new car there. Also, the embassy recommends fleeing the scene of any accident due to the possibility of a mob forming if you stick around. If your car can go, get out of there.

Bangkok, Thailand was more civil, but DC is still a breeze in comparison.

Posted by: kate | February 26, 2007 10:58 AM | Report abuse

In Seoul, S. Korea, they drive on the sidewalks to get around traffic, heaven help the pedestrians. I wish I was exaggerating.

I've also heard a friend of mine studying in an urban area in China say similar, but I don't recall exactly what city he was in when he was telling me about it.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 26, 2007 11:07 AM | Report abuse

SCARIEST TRIP EVER!!! -- Mexico City with a colleague, needed to get from the National Cathedral to an indoor market somewhere across town. Asked a police officer for directions who volunteered one of his off-duty officers to drive us there in his personal vehicle. Probably not the best idea, but we got into his old-style VW bug for a ride the wrong way down one-way streets, through red lights and on the sidewalk. We made it in one piece, but my colleague nearly beat me to death with her purse for making such a stupid decision.

Also, Buenos Aries and Sao Paulo (can anyone drive safely in South America?)

Posted by: Lester Burnham | February 26, 2007 11:29 AM | Report abuse

In Rome, at least they obey the traffic signals, but the rest is up for grabs. Three marked lanes become five, with scooters zooming by without warning. Street signs can't be found let alone read. Relatively speaking, drivers in DC and the rest of America are law-abiding pussy cats (with the exception of the Beltway, which is an unpoliced speedway, when it's moving). As for our Metro buses, pedestrians need to stop jaywalking and stay out of the buses' way!

Posted by: Rich | February 26, 2007 12:09 PM | Report abuse

About the latest Metrobus incident - 3 year old in a stroller hit by the Metrobus:

How does a stroller get hit by the right-rear of a bus? Did the bus drive on the sidewalk while making a right turn? That should be easy to spot what with the black-rubber marks the tires make going over the curb. But they haven't found anything yet.
The mother rides ANOTHER bus to report the accident?

Something squirrelly is going on here that hasn't been reported yet. Am I cynical or does the rash of incidents over the past few months look like an opportunity to score a multi-million payday from DC via the court system?

Just wondering if I am the only person out there having doubts about this "accident". Can anybody fill me in with more facts on this incident?

Posted by: SoMD | February 26, 2007 12:30 PM | Report abuse

This may be common in other countries, but there are no street signs in San Jose, Costa Rica. Street names are SUPPOSED to be painted on buildings, but they tend to wear off in time and it is often difficult to distinguish streets from alleys.

Posted by: Lester Burnham | February 26, 2007 2:18 PM | Report abuse

hey- i know this has nothing to do with the topic- but I think the Metro is shut down (???) at least at Foggy Bottom. my friend tried an hour ago to get to virginia, but no trains came, so he tried again later but security turned him away. We have no idea why.. or what's going on.. but we've heard rumors. The post doesn't have anything on their site that i can find, has no travel alerts, and has a breaking news alert about Anna Nicole Smith (seriously.)


Posted by: jt | February 26, 2007 4:37 PM | Report abuse

well, as i was here typing- put up a notice saying that the smithsonian stop and federal triangle stop are closed. no word as to why.

Posted by: jt | February 26, 2007 4:40 PM | Report abuse

RE: jt,
I just tried to check the wmata site and it looks like it's down.

Posted by: krank | February 26, 2007 4:57 PM | Report abuse

WTOP has an alert on their webpage--Smoke in the tunnel

Posted by: Orange Line | February 26, 2007 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Metro reported via its text alerts system around 5:08 pm that both stations had reopened, presumably after the "smoke in tunnel" situation was checked into, but that "delays continue" on the Blue and Orange Lines. The Post hasn't had anything on its site. I haven't seen anything about Foggy Bottom, don't know why anyone would have been turned away there between 3:30 and 4:30 as the story above suggests.

Posted by: Longtime Metro Rider | February 26, 2007 5:35 PM | Report abuse

SoMd: I had the same thoughts. Ka-ching, anyone?

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | February 26, 2007 7:22 PM | Report abuse

I visited Morocco last summer, my first time out of the US. Riding in a car in the city was incredible. Not only do you have to watch other cars that don't stay in the marked lanes, people walking everywhere and don't cross in the crosswalks, motorized bikes with 2-3 people (no helmets) riding on them and donkeys pulling carts down the highway. It was like an obstacle course for drivers. Beautiful country and wonderful people though.

Posted by: cindyinarlington | February 27, 2007 9:19 AM | Report abuse

What's the income look like in these areas that people are getting hit in? I remember in Portland, Oregon two years ago a women claimed she was hit by a MAXX (light rail) train as it rounded a corner. Well, turned out it was the train I was on at the time and yes, the woman was hit by it, after she tried to jump BETWEEN THE CARS! These trains aren't that long, probably a little shorter than a Metro four-car train. She couldn't wait all of 7 seconds for the train to pass.

Turned out she'd done it so she could sue everybody and anybody because she needed the money. She was without a job and penniless apparently and did this right in front of a building that helps people just like this.

If you're getting hit by the back of the bus, two things...1 You're not paying attention. 2 You're probably not going to win a court case but more likely a Darwin Award.

Why don't these people just go to a Van Management McDonald's and order a milkshake with cleaner in it (just like the one I got) and sue McDonalds.

Posted by: Money Hungry | February 27, 2007 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Worst traffic ever? Cairo. I was a passenger and never had to drive there myself (thank goodness!). But when cars come to an intersection, ignore the traffic light, and just turn right without looking left to see whether anyone was already in the lane, well, it took my breath away. Yes, the car coming from the left hit us. The driver of my car got out, as did the other driver, they yelled at each other for a few minutes and then got back in their respective cars and kept driving.

Oh, and headlights? Most folks over there don't use them because they thing that it'll drain their battery. (this is at about 4am, driving to the airport.)

Way too exciting for my tastes.

Posted by: Rockville | February 27, 2007 1:21 PM | Report abuse

In an inversion of the original thread of horror-stories-from-elsewhere ... I find that after I travel in Europe, I'm all the *more* frustrated with drivers back in my beloved home. What I would consider simple and vital concepts, like "Keep right except to pass", "Keep your car in its lane", "Turn on your lights when it's raining", are basic of-course-you-would assumptions in Europe, but precious rare here. European drivers (as a surely unfair generalization) are certainly aggressive and fast, but they are in command of their vehicles and they don't toddle along 4 abreast on the highway. American drivers (also unfairly broad) are great at heart, but seem to miss the connection between "driving down the middle of the street / pacing the car to your right / driving a grey car through fog" and "hurting other drivers".

Does anyone have any theories as to why American drivers, who want to do the right thing, don't make this connection between lanes and lights and good behavior?

Posted by: DC | February 27, 2007 4:29 PM | Report abuse

Worst in terms of craziness is going to have to be Beijing. There are three lanes painted on the road but the drivers turn them into four...and still there isn't enough room. It is something to see. And then you have to add in oblivious bicyclists, homidical taxis and sociopathic street cleaners (if you ever hear the opening strains of "Theme From Love Story" behind you you, run. You're about to get drenched. Trust me on this).

The winner for congestion goes to Moscow. In a typical rush hour, it will take you three hours to go ten miles. The worst designed road system I have ever seen. Limited-access highways just don't exist over there. Too "German", I guess.

Posted by: j-man | February 27, 2007 4:29 PM | Report abuse

I have been to Tokyo were there arent any street name signs. I guess you just got the know where you are going.

Posted by: Kamantha | March 1, 2007 4:40 PM | Report abuse

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