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Old 12-28-04, 12:52 PM   #1
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Making driving seem dangerous could make cycling safer?

Picked up this interesting article in another listserve today. Carefully applied, this could bring some real benefits to some of our communities.

Published December 2004, in Wired Magazine

No street signs. No crosswalks. No accidents.
Surprise: Making driving seem more dangerous could make it safer.

By Tom McNichol

Hans Monderman is a traffic engineer who hates traffic signs. Oh, he can put up with the well-placed speed limit placard or a dangerous curve warning on a major highway, but Monderman considers most signs to be not only annoying but downright dangerous. To him, they are an admission of failure, a sign -- literally -- that a road designer somewhere hasn't done his job. "The trouble with traffic engineers is that when there's a problem with a road, they always try to add something," Monderman says. "To my mind, it's much better to remove things."

Monderman is one of the leaders of a new breed of traffic engineer -- equal parts urban designer, social scientist, civil engineer, and psychologist. The approach is radically counterintuitive: Build roads that seem dangerous, and they'll be safer.

Monderman and I are tooling around the rural two-lane roads of northern Holland, where he works as a road designer. He wants to show me a favorite intersection he designed. It's a busy junction that doesn't contain a single traffic signal, road sign, or directional marker, an approach that turns eight decades of traditional traffic thinking on its head.

Wearing a striped tie and crisp blue blazer with shiny gold buttons, Monderman looks like the sort of stout, reliable fellow you'd see on a package of pipe tobacco. He's worked as a civil engineer and traffic specialist for more than 30 years and, for a time, ran his own driving school. Droll and reserved, he's easy to underestimate -- but his ideas on road design, safety, and city planning are being adopted from Scandinavia to the Sunshine State.

Riding in his green Saab, we glide into Drachten, a 17th-century village that has grown into a bustling town of more than 40,000.
We pass by the performing arts center, and suddenly, there it is:
the Intersection. It's the confluence of two busy two-lane roads that handle 20,000 cars a day, plus thousands of bicyclists and pedestrians. Several years ago, Monderman ripped out all the traditional instruments used by traffic engineers to influence driver behavior -- traffic lights, road markings, and some pedestrian crossings -- and in their place created a roundabout, or traffic circle. The circle is remarkable for what it doesn't contain: signs or signals telling drivers how fast to go, who has the right-of-way, or how to behave. There are no lane markers or curbs separating street and sidewalk, so it's unclear exactly where the car zone ends and the pedestrian zone begins. To an approaching driver, the intersection is utterly ambiguous -- and that's the point.

Monderman and I stand in silence by the side of the road a few minutes, watching the stream of motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians make their way through the circle, a giant concrete mixing bowl of transport. Somehow it all works. The drivers slow to gauge the intentions of crossing bicyclists and walkers. Negotiations over right-of-way are made through fleeting eye contact. Remarkably, traffic moves smoothly around the circle with hardly a brake screeching, horn honking, or obscene gesture. "I love it!" Monderman says at last. "Pedestrians and cyclists used to avoid this place, but now, as you see, the cars look out for the cyclists, the cyclists look out for the pedestrians, and everyone looks out for each other. You can't expect traffic signs and street markings to encourage that sort of behavior. You have to build it into the design of the road."

It's no surprise that the Dutch, a people renowned for social experimentation in practically every facet of life, have embraced new ideas in traffic management. But variations of Monderman's less-is-more approach to traffic engineering are spreading around the globe, showing up in Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, the UK, and the US.

In Denmark, the town of Christianfield stripped the traffic signs and signals from its major intersection and cut the number of serious or fatal accidents a year from three to zero. In England, towns in Suffolk and Wiltshire have removed lane lines from secondary roads in an effort to slow traffic -- experts call it "psychological traffic calming." A dozen other towns in the UK are looking to do the same.
A study of center-line removal in Wiltshire, conducted by the Transport Research Laboratory, a UK transportation consultancy, found that drivers with no center line to guide them drove more safely and had a 35 percent decrease in the number of accidents.

In the US, traffic engineers are beginning to rethink the dictum that the car is king and pedestrians are well advised to get the hell off the road. In West Palm Beach, Florida, planners have redesigned several major streets, removing traffic signals and turn lanes, narrowing the roadbed, and bringing people and cars into much closer contact. The result: slower traffic, fewer accidents, shorter trip times. "I think the future of transportation in our cities is slowing down the roads," says Ian Lockwood, the transportation manager for West Palm Beach during the project and now a transportation and design consultant. "When you try to speed things up, the system tends to fail, and then you're stuck with a design that moves traffic inefficiently and is hostile to pedestrians and human exchange."

The common thread in the new approach to traffic engineering is a recognition that the way you build a road affects far more than the movement of vehicles. It determines how drivers behave on it, whether pedestrians feel safe to walk alongside it, what kinds of businesses and housing spring up along it. "A wide road with a lot of signs is telling a story," Monderman says. "It's saying, go ahead, don't worry, go as fast as you want, there's no need to pay attention to your surroundings. And that's a very dangerous message."

We drive on to another project Monderman designed, this one in the nearby village of Oosterwolde. What was once a conventional road junction with traffic lights has been turned into something resembling a public square that mixes cars, pedestrians, and cyclists. About 5,000 cars pass through the square each day, with no serious accidents since the redesign in 1999. "To my mind, there is one crucial test of a design such as this," Monderman says. "Here, I will show you."

With that, Monderman tucks his hands behind his back and begins to walk into the square -- backward -- straight into traffic, without being able to see oncoming vehicles. A stream of motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians ease around him, instinctively yielding to a man with the courage of his convictions.

>From the beginning, a central premise guiding American road design was
that driving and walking were utterly incompatible modes of transport, and that the two should be segregated as much as possible.

The planned suburban community of Radburn, New Jersey, founded in 1929 as "a town for the motor age," took the segregation principle to its logical extreme. Radburn's key design element was the strict separation of vehicles and people; cars were afforded their own generously proportioned network, while pedestrians were tucked safely away in residential "super blocks," which often terminated in quiet cul de sacs. Parents could let kids walk to the local school without fearing that they might be mowed down in the street. Radburn quickly became a template for other communities in the US and Britain, and many of its underlying assumptions were written directly into traffic codes.

The psychology of driver behavior was largely unknown. Traffic engineers viewed vehicle movement the same way a hydraulics engineer approaches water moving through a pipe -- to increase the flow, all you have to do is make the pipe fatter. Roads became wider and more "forgiving" -- roadside trees were cut down and other landscape elements removed in an effort to decrease fatalities. Road signs, rather than road architecture, became the chief way to enforce behavior. Pedestrians, meanwhile, were kept out of the traffic network entirely or limited to defined crossing points.

The strict segregation of cars and people turned out to have unintended consequences on towns and cities. Wide roads sliced through residential areas, dividing neighborhoods, discouraging pedestrian activity, and destroying the human scale of the urban environment.

The old ways of traffic engineering -- build it bigger, wider, faster
- aren't going to disappear overnight. But one look at West Palm Beach suggests an evolution is under way. When the city of 82,000 went ahead with its plan to convert several wide thoroughfares into narrow two-way streets, traffic slowed so much that people felt it was safe to walk there. The increase in pedestrian traffic attracted new shops and apartment buildings. Property values along Clematis Street, one of the town's main drags, have more than doubled since it was reconfigured. "In West Palm, people were just fed up with the way things were, and sometimes, that's what it takes," says Lockwood, the town's former transportation manager. "What we really need is a complete paradigm shift in traffic engineering and city planning to break away from the conventional ideas that have got us in this mess.
There's still this notion that we should build big roads everywhere because the car represents personal freedom. Well, that's bull****.
The truth is that most people are prisoners of their cars."

Today some of the most car-oriented areas in the US are rethinking their approaches to traffic, mainly because they have little choice.
"The old way doesn't work anymore," says Gary Toth, director of project planning and development for the New Jersey Department of Transportation. The 2004 Urban Mobility Report, published by the respected Texas Transportation Institute, shows that traffic congestion is growing across the nation in towns and cities of all sizes. The study's conclusion: It's only going to get worse.

Instead of widening congested highways, New Jersey's DOT is urging neighboring or contiguous towns to connect their secondary streets and add smaller centers of development, creating a series of linked minivillages with narrow roads, rather than wide, car-choked highways strewn with malls. "The cities that continue on their conventional path with traffic and land use will harm themselves, because people with a choice will leave," says Lockwood. "They'll go to places where the quality of life is better, where there's more human exchange, where the city isn't just designed for cars. The economy is going to follow the creative class, and they want to live in areas that have a sense of place. That's why these new ideas have to catch on.
The folly of traditional traffic engineering is all around us."

Back in Holland, Monderman is fighting his own battle against the folly of traditional traffic engineering, one sign at a time. "Every road tells a story," Monderman says. "It's just that so many of our roads tell the story poorly, or tell the wrong story."

As the new approach to traffic begins to take hold in the US, the road ahead is unmarked and ambiguous. Hans Monderman couldn't be happier.


Contributing editor Tom McNichol (mcnichol@pacbell.net) wrote about bowling in issue 12.09.



How to Build a Better Intersection: Chaos = Cooperation

1. Remove signs: The architecture of the road -- not signs and signals
-- dictates traffic flow.

2. Install art: The height of the fountain indicates how congested the intersection is.

3. Share the spotlight: Lights illuminate not only the roadbed, but also the pedestrian areas.

4. Do it in the road: Cafes extend to the edge of the street, further emphasizing the idea of shared space.

5. See eye to eye: Right-of-way is negotiated by human interaction, rather than commonly ignored signs.

6. Eliminate curbs: Instead of a raised curb, sidewalks are denoted by texture and color.
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Old 12-28-04, 01:57 PM   #2
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Good article. It's interesting to note that in Holland, not only cyclists have a better record of accidents and injuries in comparrison to the U.S., the motorists do too.

In the greater Vancouver regional district, many of these traffic ideas are being implemented. It's good to see there seems to be some shift from traditional community and transportational planning to better ideas.
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Old 12-28-04, 02:15 PM   #3
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Excellent article. Thanks for sharing

Here are some of my opinion since I live in New Jersey

1. I don't agree with this "traffic circle" because it won't work in a large city. I live about 7 miles away from one of these traffic circles and you DON'T want to ride a bicycle through that mess. Cars are everywhere and it's girdlock for 2 or 3 miles every day. Yes there are lights but I can just imagine how it would be without them! Pure madness!

2. Traffic lines on a two way street - I've been saying for years that the traffic line in a two way street is killing cyclist and peds all over the country. My town recently repaved the street and before they repainted the lines, the street was actually safer! The cars without a reference point, gave me much more room because they didn't feel hampered in going into the next lane! Furthermore, since there was no line down the middle of the street, the cars were actually slower because they lost the reference of slowness and thus did not increase their speed!

3. Radburn, New Jersey --- I'm going to visit this town in April (by bicycle of couse) and see what a joke the engineers did to destroy it. I bet it's full of highspeed cars, dangerous roads and smells like the back of a muffler!

4. Clematis Street -- I congruduate the people of West Palm Beach for finally coming to their senses.
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Old 12-28-04, 02:19 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by closetbiker
Good article. It's interesting to note that in Holland, not only cyclists have a better record of accidents and injuries in comparrison to the U.S., the motorists do too.

In the greater Vancouver regional district, many of these traffic ideas are being implemented. It's good to see there seems to be some shift from traditional community and transportational planning to better ideas.
The idea of slowing everyone down to increase efficiency is revolutionary. I'll probably be 95 before my town adopts some of those transportational planning.
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Old 12-28-04, 02:38 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by Dahon.Steve
I don't agree with this "traffic circle" because it won't work in a large city. I live about 7 miles away from one of these traffic circles and you DON'T want to ride a bicycle through that mess. Cars are everywhere and it's girdlock for 2 or 3 miles every day. Yes there are lights but I can just imagine how it would be without them! Pure madness!
I live near three and I'll go miles out of my way to avoid them. They're old-school too, no lights on these. County & state put yield signs at each entrance, but it didn't help at all. Actually it made it worse. Now instead of merging, drivers that don't know better think yield means stop, so it backs everything up.
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Old 12-28-04, 02:42 PM   #6
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The ONLY reason why this works in holland is because over there, people have common decency, patience, and respect for each other's lives and wellbeing.
You try that crap in NYC with the soccer mom going through menopause driving her 4 ton "YUPEE HUMVEE" who's trying to scald 2 children at once in the back seat.
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Old 12-28-04, 08:54 PM   #7
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Anarchistic roads, such as the traffic circles described above, work only if all road users are cautious and courteously assertive. Three intersections near me, one currently with a 4-way stop and the other two with 2-way stops, were scheduled for replacement by modern tight-radius traffic circles, but the project currently appears to be on hold. A 15 mph one-lane roundabout might indeed be safer than a 4-way stop -- I see someone run a stop sign about once per year.
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Old 12-28-04, 09:53 PM   #8
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Thanks for posting an interesting perspective!

Tom
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Old 12-28-04, 10:39 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by slvoid
The ONLY reason why this works in holland is because over there, people have common decency, patience, and respect for each other's lives and wellbeing.
You try that crap in NYC with the soccer mom going through menopause driving her 4 ton "YUPEE HUMVEE" who's trying to scald 2 children at once in the back seat.
If she has an accident, throw that soccer Mom in jail for a while, confiscate the vehicle, and let her hubby watch those kids while she sweats it out behind bars. Her attitude will change. Orrrrrrrrr, maybe have her "muck out" stalls for animals at the state fair. That might open her eyes a bit. I wonder what would happen if we gave drivers a broom instead of a fine, and had them sweep off the sides of roadways where all the little stuff collects. Inspect it afterward, and if it's not clean enough, they don't get credit for the work.
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Old 12-29-04, 02:06 AM   #10
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Interesting concept. I actually don't recall many accidents at those types of traffic circles in Korea. I think there was signage--if so, it was generally ignored. Keep in mind, this is a country where 3 marked traffic lanes typically held 6-8 vehicles abreast. 'Course, bikes are huge over there.


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Originally Posted by Dchiefransom
If she has an accident, throw that soccer Mom in jail for a while, confiscate the vehicle, and let her hubby watch those kids while she sweats it out behind bars. Her attitude will change. Orrrrrrrrr, maybe have her "muck out" stalls for animals at the state fair. That might open her eyes a bit. I wonder what would happen if we gave drivers a broom instead of a fine, and had them sweep off the sides of roadways where all the little stuff collects. Inspect it afterward, and if it's not clean enough, they don't get credit for the work.
I used to work at a stable, so I know firsthand about that kind of punishment. Good idea, IMO. I do think that the inspections should be performed by drill sergeants/instructors, if possible. I got cut off(in my car) earlier tonight by someone coming out of a liquor store p-lot(how appropo) and got flipped off for my trouble. Ah, the joys of traffic....
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Old 12-29-04, 10:34 AM   #11
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We have traffic circles, and more are planned, in Santa Barbara. The rationale is always that the kinds of car collisions in a round-about are less damaging than the kinds in traditional intersections. Pedestrian and cyclist needs are never part of the calculations. I've never attempted one on foot or bike.
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Old 12-29-04, 01:08 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by slvoid
The ONLY reason why this works in holland is because over there, people have common decency, patience, and respect for each other's lives and wellbeing.

Quote:
Originally Posted by John E
Anarchistic roads, such as the traffic circles described above, work only if all road users are cautious and courteously assertive.

I don't know, it seems pretty simple to me. After giving way to oncoming vehichles, a slower, gentle vereing to the right, seems to be safer than trusting someone to not run a stop.

ICBC has some info on them on it's website under road safety, road improvements, roundabouts

Quote:
Roundabouts can help reduce serious crashes, particularly crashes involving bodily injury, while also lessening vehicle speed, improving pedestrian and bicycle safety and eliminating the need for traffic signals-- which itself is good news because it cuts down on maintenance and enforcement.
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Old 12-29-04, 02:23 PM   #13
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I was in southern France this fall, and there are lots and lots of traffic circles. They all seemed to work very well; compared to the congestion that built up at few remaining traffic signals there, traffic always seemed to flow through the circles - slowly to be sure, but constantly and without significant congestion. There were sometimes (but certainly not always) stop signs controlling entry to the circles, and there were route signs indicating the destinations of the exiting roads. If you missed your 'exit', you could just stay in the circle and go around a second time...it all seemed pretty logical to me once I got used to it.
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Old 12-29-04, 02:58 PM   #14
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I was in southern France this fall, and there are lots and lots of traffic circles. They all seemed to work very well; compared to the congestion that built up at few remaining traffic signals there, traffic always seemed to flow through the circles - slowly to be sure, but constantly and without significant congestion. There were sometimes (but certainly not always) stop signs controlling entry to the circles, and there were route signs indicating the destinations of the exiting roads. If you missed your 'exit', you could just stay in the circle and go around a second time...it all seemed pretty logical to me once I got used to it.
The problem with the traffic circles is that they are usually placed in the center of high speed traffic. As a result, cars reach the circle at 50 mph or more creating gridlock in short order. I've seen traffic circles work very well in parks where the roads are curvy and speeds much slower.
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Old 12-29-04, 03:08 PM   #15
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I think anyone living in New Jersey can attest to the fact that circles do not work particularly well here for whatever reason. Maybe drivers do not understand how to use them. Another possibility is NJ drivers are not simply not courteous enough to allow for proper merging.
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Old 12-29-04, 04:28 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by Dahon.Steve
The problem with the traffic circles is that they are usually placed in the center of high speed traffic. As a result, cars reach the circle at 50 mph or more creating gridlock in short order. I've seen traffic circles work very well in parks where the roads are curvy and speeds much slower.
I agree they're probably not going to work on 50 MPH roads. Most of the roads in southern France were posted between 30 and 50 KPH. Part of the discussion in the original post indicated that you also need to redesign the road for slower speeds, and not just drop in a traffic circle and expect it to work.

And, as Nick said, lack of courtesy amongst the motorists may also have something to do with it - in other words, the motorists need to be retrained - or there needs to be enough traffic circles installed so that the drivers get used to them - not just one circle that no one really understands how to use. In southern France, the density of circles is pretty high near each small town; you might encounter several circles within a kilometer or two, but in between towns, they're a little more spaced out.
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Old 12-29-04, 04:34 PM   #17
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It's been a long time now, but I recall an argument which suggested that many of our growth and quality of life issues would address themselves if we just stopped adding lanes and additional miles of roadway.

The article presents an interesting perspective. How many folks just barrel through a green light at an intersection simply because they are led to believe that they have the right of way and that those without it will always stop? How would they approach the same intersection and behave if the government didn't make all those suggestions?

I don't mean to suggest that I support growth linmitations imposed by transporatation policy or any other means for that matter. The article just evoked memories and stimulated thought.

Thanks for posting it.
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Old 12-29-04, 04:39 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The Wanderer
1. Remove signs: The architecture of the road -- not signs and signals
-- dictates traffic flow.

6. Eliminate curbs: Instead of a raised curb, sidewalks are denoted by texture and color.


I agree that roads are not well designed for traffic flow, but rotaries? They work for a couple of two-lane roads but they don't scale. Many cities in this country are trying to get rid of them. Traffic on the Cape was light years better once they got rid of some of those rotaries coming off the bridges.


If they are going to get rid of curbs I hope they decide soon. I would hate to perfect a bunny hop for nothing.
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Old 12-29-04, 06:26 PM   #19
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Originally Posted by Dahon.Steve
The problem with the traffic circles is that they are usually placed in the center of high speed traffic.
But isn't that part of the point of roundabouts? That they get traffic to slow down? Isn't slowing down traffic a key to reducing accidents?
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Old 12-29-04, 07:16 PM   #20
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Remember that episode of Seinfeld where Kramer takes out the stripes in the middle highway lane to make the highway more cruise-able, and instead, he creates a traffic nightmare? That's what some of that article reminds me of.

The roundabout thing can be a good idea, but some roundabouts are downright terrifying. I was riding my bike in Greece, and it took me at least 15 minutes to enter a roundabout in Athens. It was incredibly dangerous- traffic was so fast, and each time I tried to enter, I got honks and NO ONE slowed to let me in. I finally entered and rode the perimeter, but I still had to fight for traffic to let me ride the traffic circle all the way to the other side. What an inconvenience!

If they do traffic circles, it definitely has to be limited to one lane and a certain circumference. Otherwise, I don't see what good it will do in a large city like Chicago.

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Old 12-29-04, 09:05 PM   #21
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Originally Posted by closetbiker
But isn't that part of the point of roundabouts? That they get traffic to slow down? Isn't slowing down traffic a key to reducing accidents?
Maybe in canada, in america, we have a lot less patience and courtsey towards everyone else, especially in a car.
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Old 12-29-04, 09:13 PM   #22
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Maybe in canada, in america, we have a lot less patience and courtsey towards everyone else, especially in a car.

People in cars in America actually believe that other people beyond themselves even exist?????
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Old 12-29-04, 10:00 PM   #23
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... in america, we have a lot less patience and courtsey towards everyone else...
Yeah, what a way to have things run smoothly.
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Old 12-29-04, 10:07 PM   #24
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People in cars in America actually believe that other people beyond themselves even exist?????
Sometimes, I was almost clipped by a car making a turn into me, but gladly the driver missed me by about an inch, my 30 watts of light up front must've encouraged him to only narrowly miss me rather than plow into me. Maybe with 60 watts, he would've missed me by almost a foot.
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Old 12-29-04, 11:55 PM   #25
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Sometimes, I was almost clipped by a car making a turn into me, but gladly the driver missed me by about an inch, my 30 watts of light up front must've encouraged him to only narrowly miss me rather than plow into me. Maybe with 60 watts, he would've missed me by almost a foot.
I'd be catching this guy at the next light and giving him some kind of what for.
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