Life · traffic

An Argument For the Idaho Stop

As many drivers will tell you, usually in angrily posted internet comments, roads were built for cars. This factoid comes from the latest New York Times bestseller, The Big Book of Thank You Letters to Doctor Obvious. The lanes are car-width. The speed limits are car-powered. The loop-induction traffic signals are car-weighted. Yes, it’s all very obvious that roads were made for cars.

Also made for cars are traffic-calming devices. Traffic-calming is the concept of creating a safer environment for all road users. It mainly consists of narrowing lanes and putting obstructions like speed humps (“sleeping policeman” for you Brits), islands, and curves into the traffic flow. The intended result is to slow the speed of cars and make drivers aware of other road users. Note that pedestrians and cyclist have no need for speed-reducing devices because they are rarely traveling above the speed limit.

Here in The States, we haven’t fully embraces the roundabout. We have opted for right-angle intersections with light or sign control. This makes the stop sign a ubiquitous fixture on American streets. For example, my neighborhood, which has only one connection to the highway, consists of four longish streets and seven cul-du-sacs. There are fewer than 300 houses. All traffic is local since it is essentially a dead-end. The speed limit is 25 mph as are most residential areas. There are 15 stop signs, not including the one at the main highway. Every single traffic sign in my neighborhood is a stop sign. I have to ask, “Why”

The only conclusion is, the stop signs are there to interrupt cars so they don’t build up speed past the 25 mph limit. If there was some other device, say a computer controlled car, that ensured the cars never got over 25 mph, every intersection could be controlled with a simple yield sign. The fact is, most drivers treat the stop signs as if they were yield signs because it makes no damned sense to come to a full stop to turn right when the only possible cross traffic is coming from two houses that have driveways to the left, on a dead-end street. The rolling or “California” stop for cars is alive and well. It’s normally a perfectly safe exercise and the only penalty is if a cop sees it.

The Idaho Stop
The name derives from a recent change to the Idaho traffic code that allows cyclist to treat stop signs as yield signs with the caveat that if another vehicle is already stopped at the intersection, they have the right-of-way. It’s not as crazy as it first sounds. Since bicycles are moving at a car-relative slow speed, the cyclist has more time to assess the intersection and continue without stopping if the assessment is “all clear.” Idaho recognizes that stop signs are traffic-calming devices designed for cars. The Idaho Stop doesn’t give cyclist carte-blanche to run every stop sign. It doesn’t give them the right-of-way at all intersections. It simply puts the responsibility for their safety in their hands and allows them to continue unimpeded if they can do so safely.

The next time you see a cyclist cautiously run a stop sign, remember that most stop signs are simply traffic-calming devices for cars. The next time you see a cyclist jump a red light, consider that they have probably waited through 3 cycles without a green light because they can’t trigger the loop-induction sensor. Indeed, roads were built for cars and what quickly followed were devices to make drivers behave. These devices don’t always apply to non-car traffic.

Share the road and keep chasing the odd, little happy.

Autos · Life

Dashcam Chronicles: Illegal Passing

I have a dashcam for several reasons. One, I’d like to have proof in court if I get a bogus traffic ticket. Two, it helps with insurance claims if there are questions about what happened. But, three, and the most important reason, it’s an endless source of entertainment and a record to just how idiotic people are when they drive.

Here’s the latest example of a driver who thought my wife pulled out a little to closely ahead of him on a 45 mph (~65kph) road. His little road rage tantrum manifests in a dangerous illegal pass (that’ll show her) only to be, you guessed it, stopped by the next traffic light with the person he just tried to run off the road.

But a picture is worth a thousand words, so here’s a million-word video that captured the event.

Keep chasing the odd, little, happy.


Geometrically Challenged Bumper Puppets

I see it every day. You wannabe bumper puppets wandering cluelessly through parking lots are at the top of my Death-Race-2000, 100-bonus-points, see-how-high-you-ricotche-off-my-bumper list. Why do you think the rules of crossing the street don’t apply in parking lots? If you were crossing a highway, you’d walk purposefully and directly from one corner to the other at a right angle to the traffic. But put that street inside a parking lot and suddenly it’s a geometric challenge to all pedestrians. Right angles no longer apply. The only 10th-grade geometry you can now remember is “the shortest distance between two points is a straight line” from the door to my car. Traffic be damned!

And that purposeful walk suddenly becomes an aimless amble as you walk down the middle of the traffic lane. God forbid, you pull out your cell phone. Now you’re not only geometrically challenged, your head is in a cell-phone fog. Your tunnel-vision has narrowed 97%. If the driver who has been creeping behind you as you show no hope of actually getting out of the lane dares tap their horn in a friendly, “Hey, asshole, try actually crossing the street before I mount the curb,” gesture, you prepare your best stink-eye for a glare in their direction.

The last leg of my morning commute is the long walk from a section of parking lot that, frankly, could use a tram running every five minutes. I see the abhorrent lane-danglers there, too. These are otherwise brilliant people. Some are even rocket scientist, literally. Most ignore the thoughtfully installed sidewalk. God forbid I invite them to trade the asphalt for concrete. I get the extra-smelly stink-eye and my lunch stolen from the break-room fridge.

I’ve struggled with these feelings for far too long. Though, as these paragraphs witness, I haven’t completely come to terms with my geometrical demons, I have resigned myself to trusting in Darwinian evolution to do its job. Let the herd be thinned by metal and plastic flinging the mindlessly self-absorbed into light post and bushes! At least I can enjoy my lunch secure in the knowledge there will be an open parking space closer to the door tomorrow.


Misadventures in License Renewal

Let me just say it. February sucks. It’s a short month. It’s a cold month. It’s the month when I must renew my car tags. Luckily, my county/state has joined the 20th century and allows me to renew my tags on-line. Unluckily, they are stuck in a 19th century mind set where they think they must charge for this extra-added service.

Here’s how it works. They mail postcards with the renewal information. At the top of the card is a PIN which you can combine with your plate number on the county web site to renew your tag. Sounds pretty straight forward. So what is the cost? First, they charge $2 per tag to cover their mailing costs. Forget the fact that both my tags (tiny stickers with “2011” on them) came in the same envelope. Second, the software company who maintains the site for the county is going to charge me another $5.50 to cover the bank charges of the credit/debit card.

So I get to pay an extra $9.50 to save the county the labor costs involved in processing my tags in person at the courthouse or one of their handy satellite offices. Genius! Well, if you know me even from just this blog, you know I’m not one to let idiocy go unchallenged. Fortune smiled on me and gave me the perfect opportunity to mess with these people because the instructions on the web site were convoluted to say the least. Remember, you must use your tag number and PIN (Personal Identification Number) to complete the transaction. The PIN has about 4 leading zeros, but I’m not prejudiced. Zero is a number, too.

These are the instructions on the renewal site:

The renewal notice will be required so that you have your “ONLINE PIN” to type in to the OnLine Pin field on the renewal form. Your OnLine Pin is case sensitive and must be entered in all capitals.

The bold emphasis is theirs. I’ll let the fact go that they are inconsistent with the use of “on-line” and “PIN”. Now tuck this away. We’ll need it later. Here is the feedback I left after completing my renewal transaction:

Charging a “convenience fee” to use an on-line system that saves the county hundreds of dollars in labor by not having to process transactions in person is counter-intuitive. “Counter-intuitive” is the only polite word I could think of for such a ridiculous concept. Even charging the $2.00 mail coverage fee doesn’t take into account the savings over the more labor-intensive, in-person, courthouse transaction.

I received a very polite, detailed, and lengthy reply from the company who provides the software and service for the county. I’ve changed the company and respondent’s name to protect the innocent. I haven’t changed mine because I’m far from innocent in this whole affair.

The convenience fee is not charged by the county nor do they profit any amount of this money from this service. This is charged by us, Milking You For Nickels LLC an online processing company that provides this service for the certain counties. We charge this amount because we pay the bank fees, credit card fees, provide software, telecommunication lines and customer service. This service is just another option of paying for your tag renewal. You could have gone to the county yourself and stood in line, used your car and your gas money to get there and not had to pay this fee nor the mail fee. You also could have mailed in this payment and sat and worried if they received this payment with the mail fee included and guessed at when you might receive your decal and pay the mail fee. This service is simply for the convenience of not having to do this by mail or go to the county office. If we did not provide this service, the county would have to raise taxes on the residents of your county to provide this and I don’t believe that would go over well. I am sorry you are vexed by this fee and hope you understand the concept now. Thanks and have a great day!!

Jane Smilesalot

Sure I understand. I understood where the money was going before I left the feedback. The point that is lost on them is the on-line process more than makes up for the labor involved in processing my transaction in person or even paying someone to sit at the courthouse and open envelopes.

Here’s a recent news tidbit to prove my point. Another Alabama county has laid off so many workers they don’t have enough staff to process their tax collections arriving by mail. They literally don’t have enough money to pay workers to open, process, and deposit the checks that would (you’re ahead of me here aren’t you?) pay for workers to collect the taxes. I think we all see how they could benefit from an on-line tax payment system.

Anyway, back to my exchange with Milking You For Nickels LLC. Let’s pull out those instructions I quoted previously for this one.

Ms. Smilesalot,

Thank you for your reply to my feedback on the tag renewal site.

I see we agree that we are both saving the government money by not overwhelming their facilities in person. I certainly don’t begrudge your company from making a profit from their contract with the State. It seems that the state has forgone their responsibility to collect the tax and simply allowed MYFN LLC to collect it directly as compensation for their services. I actually like that since the more the money changes hands, the less effective it is. I guess convenience and tax are a matter of perspective.

From the consumer’s perspective, using the internet to transact business isn’t a convenience. It’s a necessity. Please excuse me for not sharing your “just another option” perspective. Most businesses prefer and promote internet solutions for the simple cost effectiveness. I think you’re selling your service short in that respect.

While we are on the topic of convenience and standing in lines and saving gas, who will compensate me for my inconvenience due to your site’s unusual instructions and requirements?

When I read “Your OnLine Pin is case sensitive and must be entered in all capitals,” (quote from the renewal site) I was confused since PIN (note the proper capitalized form) is an acronym for Personal Identification NUMBER. My keyboard lacked any capital numbers.

I rushed to my local computer store to purchase a keyboard compatible with your site’s capital numbers, but was told there were none in stock. I then visited three other stores until I found the equipment necessary to input capital numbers and complete the transaction. My expenses are itemized as:

1 high-end, specialty keyboard with capital numbers...$74.99
48 miles round-trip travel @ $0.52/mile...............$24.96
2.25 hours @ my customary billing rate of $48/hr.....$108.00
1 bottle of water to prevent charge
Total expenditure....................................$207.95

As you can see, this was not a convenience for me at all since your site’s software did not work with standard lower case numbers (I say lower case because number entry does not require the Shift key) available on standard computer keyboards. I would deduct your $5.50 fee from my charges, but you’ve already billed me for that so I must insist on the full $207.95 in compensation for the convenience of your services.

This being the internet age and for your convenience, I accept payments via this email address

Thank you,
Mr. Randy Barefoot

After giving poor Jane a few days and receiving no reply, today I followed up with this:

I haven’t heard back from you, Jane. How about a barter? I’ll waive my charges if you will change the following paragraph found at www….renewinfo.shtml

“You must have your renewal notice in order to use the online renewal system. The renewal notice will be required so that you have your “ONLINE PIN” to type in to the OnLine Pin field on the renewal form. Your OnLine Pin is case sensitive and must be entered in all capitals.”

Since a PIN is by definition a number, there is no need to emphasize the entry of it “in all capitals.” I know that sometimes the term PIN can be used loosely to apply to a combination of letters and numbers, but in the case of your on-line renewal system, your PIN is an actual number.

Your instructions combined with the fact that your PIN has leading zeros could mislead people to enter the letter O.

Please correct your instructions.

Just to complete the circle of crap, they actually have instructions on the page where you enter the tag and PIN combination that warn against confusing the letter O with zero.

So here I sit wondering where my correspondences went. Did they take it seriously and kick it upstairs for further evaluation? Did they simply stamp it “ass hat” and delete it? Did they get my snarky point? Are they going to change their poorly written instructions? I don’t expect them to stop charging people for the convenience of doing business on-line. That would be too much to hope for.

Remember folks, someone has to do these things so you don’t have to. As you see, I’m fully willing and able to fall on this grenade for the team. If I do hear back from MYFN LLC, I’ll certainly let you know what their decision was. Until then, keep smiling and hoping that stupid groundhog was wrong. We don’t need to prolong this winter. I don’t know if I mentioned it, but February sucks.

Life · pictures

I thought it would be a quiet Tuesday night

That’s not a normal noise. That’s a loud, base thud. That sounds like it came from my front yard. Why howdy, Mr. Lincoln.

All that ran through my head as I put on my coat, opened my front door and discovered a new Lincoln and two stunned teens in my front yard. We don’t have any snow or ice so the kid had to be doing a wee bit more than 25 MPH to end up where he did.

He failed to negotiate the curve one house up. He came up the neighbors drive, skidded, spun about 160 degrees, whacked the pine tree, bounced back a little, and finished 180 degrees around. At first I’d thought he’d come from the other direction.

The pine he hit is about 3 feet in circumference and 60 feet tall. It wasn’t budging. The mark kind of looks like a heart. Maybe I style it up and make a nice Valentine’s Day surprise for my wife. Here’s the winner:

My pine tree.  The winner
My pine tree. The winner

And here’s the loser.

My pine can beat up your Lincoln
My pine can beat up your Lincoln

What looks like mud in the picture is actually pine bark and needles. Who said Tuesday were boring?

Advice · funny · humor · Life

Personalized License Plates

You know what I’m talking about. You get behind someone in traffic with a personalized plate and you spend 12 red lights trying to figure out what the hell it means. You veer from your regular path and follow the car 19 miles out of the way and you’re still scratching your head wondering if even the owner knows what the plate says.

My daughter got a personalized plate with her first car. It was INDROCK. She really was into Independent Rock Artists, therefore Ind-Rock. Someone pointed out to her one day that they thought she was a crack addict because her plate read, “I need rock.” She switched to a standard plate with the next tag renewal.

Today I got behind a guy who had “BLTROX” on his gas guzzler. I thought, “This dude really likes sandwiches.” I think I’ll apply for “TACONUT” when I renew. What? I really like tacos. Dang!

cars · chevelle · chevelle SS · clash · drivers · driving · mini-vans · music · stop signs · the clash · traffic

Head to Head at the 4-Way Stop

Yield to the right is the rule when you arrive simultaneously. Yield to the cool is more like it when the guy on your right is in a matte-black, home restored Chevelle SS. Sweet ride if you can get it. With the window down and the shades on, he appeared to have the coolness factor sewn up. But I was in my mini-van.

We were at an impasse, but he knew he had the mojo of the redneck go-faster and my Korean van just didn’t impress him. That was the part that made me cooler. I let “shades” go first. He was Sparaticus after all. The things that made me cooler were that I knew I was cooler and I had my CD rockin’

Yielding the right-of-way to Shades’ SS….5 seconds.
Knowing The Clash is cranking…priceless.
Shades is not the Stig, but my mini-van will rollover in a tight turn so I must be careful. You decide which is best. I’m of the opinion that rolling around in something tight is the best thing that can possibly happen to you. Yield or don’t, just get home safely.