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April 29, 2008

Reaping

We drove up to Flagstaff this weekend to visit some friends. I always enjoy the drive - the scenery is beautiful and every single time I drive up I am reminded how much I love Arizona!

However, the traffic is the part I don't love, and this trip was a perfect example of why I think Americans DESERVE higher gas prices. Once leaving the Valley, the I-17 narrows to 2 lanes each way. The speed limit for the first 30 miles north is only 65, because there is so much traffic between Phoenix and Anthem. There is also road construction for a good portion of that stretch, so the posted limit was 55. Of course, everyone was going at least 70 - tailgating and lane changing like crazy to get around anyone foolish enough to try to obey the limit.

I'm no saint, and while I wasn't going 70, I was chugging along at 65. Even still, the majority of those on the road, in their huge SUVs, were gunning it to tailgate someone, then having to slow down until the hapless sod in front of them was intimidated enough to move over to the right lane.

After Anthem, traffic lightens up quite a bit, and the speed limit goes up to 75. Unfortunately, there was a huge truck that thought it was a Formula One racer camped out in the left lane, but it could never get its speed up to 70. Everyone was backed up behind him, unable to pass, and the right lane was moving about the same speed, so there was no way to get around him. I found myself caught up in this pack, impatiently wishing all sort of foul curses on that truck driver. I was getting snippy with Chris, and trying to avoid having people squeeze in between me and the truck in front of me.

Finally, near New River, that truck finally got a clue and moved over into the right lane. We all leaped forward like runners at the gunshot, climbing up to the 80s in our haste to get past him in case he decided to block traffic again. Chris asked me what happened to my driving zen, and I snapped back at him and lapsed into silence.

After about 10 minutes, though, I cooled down, apologized, and set the cruise control at 70. This is my zen, to drive 5 miles under the speed limit for long trips. It's so much more relaxed to drive at that speed (as long as you're considerate and stay in the right lane, of course). There's no getting caught in some pack of speeders, always plenty of space in front of you, you're not going so slow that you cause any danger, and there's usually no problem passing the few folk that are going even slower than you.

Additionally, let's do a little math. Once leaving Phoenix, Flagstaff is 120 miles away. Going 75 mph means that 120/75=1.6 hours to Flag. Going 70, you only add 1/10 of an hour (1.71), or 6 minutes, to your trip. That 6 minutes is well worth the reduction in stress, and has the additional benefit of better gas mileage. Even with all the hills, we got 42 mpg on the trip up, and 56 mpg on the coast home.

What does this have to do with Americans deserving higher gas prices? The majority of drivers on the road, both on in-town freeways and interstate, speed like maniacs in their huge cars that get maybe 10 mpg at the best of times - all to shave off a few minutes on their trip. And they don't just speed - they rev up and slow down constantly to weave around traffic, further lessening their fuel efficiency. My point is, I believe gas prices should continue to go up until Americans learn to conserve what they have - and part of that is just making some little changes in driving habits. One would think that if you're spending $100 to fill up your tank, you'll think a little bit about how you use it.
/end rant

Sunday morning

6 comments:

  1. Well, I have to admit I'm usually one of those impatient drivers on the way up to Flagstaff. Although I'm quite comfortable at 80mph rather than trying to peg my speedometer needle. I think perhaps when I head up in two weeks that I will try your zen method. Oommmmmmm.....

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  2. Driving zen. I like that. Now if only Mike will ever let me drive.....

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  3. My driving zen alas doesn't always happen...

    Though it happens enough. There was one time at the airport where I found all of the turns right and did the turnaround perfectly. Of course I was by myself...

    I tend to get angsty in these cases. I also tend to get confused by cruise control. I know it's not that diff. but it tends to unnerve.

    True, true, true.

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  4. Here in Jersey they have what are called "jug handles" which is essentially a way of shuttling everyone who wants to turn either right or left into a huge mess of angry, randomly pointed cars across three also randomly pointed lanes on the right-hand side of the actual road. People aim their cars at you and rev their engines, waiting for the light to change, at which point everyone jockeys to the first across the intersection, even if that means jamming their car directly in front of you in the hopes that you will back off and let them dive ahead. I have had cars actually drive IN-BETWEEN the lanes trying to get ahead, occasionally sticking their noses in front of my car in as threatening a manner possible. I try to be fairly accomodating and aim for the zipper approach of cars melding in together with a gentle one after another merge. But the very intersection itself seems to encourage even those of us striving for zen to turn on our aggressive and dangerous sides to ram ourselves through.

    The thing that makes me the craziest, though, is that someone actually came up with this idea, the jug-handle, and forced them onto the most heavily travelled roads. So in order to get my son to preschool every day, I have to do the angry jug handle dance, even though it is otherwise less than ten minutes away. That someone is of course the NJ government taking a terrible idea and putting it into permanent practice.

    So here's my rant on rising gas prices and the solutions being floated by politicians: when I hear about gas tax suspension and capping oil company profits and U.S. ethanol policy causing food prices to go soaring all over the world, I think of how government good intentions ended up making my neighborhood a breeding ground for accidents--and makes me waste gas every time I have to navigate it. I totally agree with you that gas prices ought to soar because innovation in the market will then produce a better fuel or fuel economy that makes gas irrevelant. So even as I'm cursing the drivers around me, I'm cursing the government that implemented this plan and, gasp, never anticipated that it would have this ultimate effect, which is to make life worse for everyone involved.

    This is totally tangential to your rant. I thought I'd just add mine. ;)

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  5. Feel free, I welcome tangential rants!

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