Bona Fide Disputes

Move Over LA Drivers, Silicon Valley’s Got You Beat

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Five years ago driving down I’m not sure which Los Angeles freeway to a 93.5 KDAY throw-back concert, a girlfriend of mine sitting in the passenger seat, who was far more familiar with the L.A. scene, was going on and on about the monstrosity that is L.A. traffic.

“Doesn’t seem that bad to me,” I said, sitting behind the wheel.  I’d heard so much about L.A.’s traffic, I expected far more than this.  Then someone cut me off and I changed my tune just a tad.  “The drivers are definitely more cut-throat here, but traffic wise, I’m not sure why L.A. has such a horrible reputation.”

At the time,  she and I were both living in San Jose, the capital of tech-central Silicon Valley, but by no means a traffic disaster.  Sure, morning commute wasn’t something to look forward to, but at least I knew the good times to drive versus the unbearable times and I knew how long it would take me to get from one place to the other; the times I should take side roads instead of freeways or hop on the freeway because it will actually be faster because that’s why freeways were built-in the first place… Either way, L.A. traffic still didn’t seem all that bad in comparison.  But it was bad.

Fast forward to present day, Silicon Valley traffic is a much different scene.  I noticed the change about three years ago, only two years after my L.A. escapade, on a Saturday morning when I hopped onto the 280 headed for small-town Campbell and was immediately overtaken by all the cars.

“What the hell!” I yelled to no one, banging my steering wheel in frustration.

Nowadays I clutch the steering wheel, lean forward as much as possible so I can get as close to the car in front of me, and yell into my windshield, “Go home!  Move back to where ever you came from!”  (I even have a hand-waving gesture that goes with it.)

My demands for people to “move back” aren’t far from the truth considering 100,000 people flocked from all over the country to the Bay Area between July 2013 and July 2014.  Only about 10,000 new people ended up in the South Bay, where I live, but I noticed the change like it happened over night.  And it’s getting worse.

Same story driving to my Central Valley hometown of Lodi.  It was only a few years ago I could leave San Jose at 7PM on a Friday night and barely hit any traffic, making it home in 1.5 hours — the amount of time it takes with normal traffic.  Now, leaving after 8 or 9PM is a safer bet or before 2PM.  If it’s a 3-day weekend, forget it.  Better drive Saturday morning.  And the traffic coming back?  Just…it’s so sad.

I’ve always loved California, but between increased traffic, high cost of living that seems to rise higher and higher every year (and is most definitely part of the reason more people are commuting from further away, creating even more traffic) and how we’re slipping further and further down the ranking for K-12 education in the nation,  I’ll be honest: My California love is fading.  Big time.  And I’m not the only one.

More Californians are moving to Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Washington and Oregon, most likely for these reasons.  Plus, for the first time more people left Silicon Valley than moved here for the first time in about five years.  Something’s up!

Could be the drought, which in my opinion is a mean reason to leave, but will in theory helps the rest of us who are loyal because fewer people will be taking 45 minute showers and watering their suburban lawns instead of letting them go dead.  So yeah, good riddance!

Either way, seems to me that collectively Californian’s are fleeing because they’re fed up, and after this past weekend in L.A., I’m even more fed up.

Last weekend, on a lone trip to L.A. five years after the KDAY concert road trip,  I made a shocking realization: Silicon Valley drivers are horrible.  While I want to believe they haven’t always been this way, I’m not sure what to make of it.  It wasn’t until a friend of mine who grew up out of state said over and over how California drivers are so horrible that I started to take notice.

At first I was perturbed, no, offended, by his remarks and generalizations and they drove me (no pun intended) crazy.  Upon further inspection I’m learning he was spot-on.  Dare I say it, Silicon Valley driving manners don’t hold a candle to L.A. drivers, not to mention the rest of the country.

A friend who actually lives in L.A. explained to me, “We don’t have as many freeways.” Maybe this is true, but what it really comes down to is freeway on and off ramps.

The Silicon Valley is riddled with freeway on and off ramps.  Otherwise known as quick escapes to get from point A to point B.  It hadn’t occurred to me until now just how accessible freeways are here.

Having lived in or on the cusp of downtown San Jose for nine years (wow),  I can visualize each on and off ramp and let me just say, our freeway access is unprecedented.  These relief exits exist every few miles, or even city blocks, and when there isn’t a ramp I feel completely lost because there isn’t a big green sign showing me which way I should travel to find my way home.  In other words, I would get lost on L.A. streets because I’ve been conditioned to use big, green signs as my compass.  So there’s at least one reason L.A. traffic seems worse.

As my L.A. friend and I made our way through the traffic lights, I was surprised when she hopped on the freeway 20 minutes later.  I said, “But you know what, you think it’s crowded on city streets in L.A. because there aren’t any freeway ramps, well the traffic in the Silicon Valley is crowded everywhere, even though we have unlimited access to freeways.”  Which, one could conclude, makes our traffic worse than L.A.

This isn’t true for the Bay Area as a whole, like in San Francisco, per se (because the freeway ramps are few and far between), but for much of the South Bay, the meat of Silicon Valley, it’s true.

Despite our crowds, it’s the inconsiderate nature of the drivers that really shocked me on my recent visit to the City of Angels.  I learned to drive in the Central Valley in a small town, so I started clean and well-mannered, and I like to think I’m still well-mannered, but driving here has rubbed off on me.

I could be making a leap here, but it’s safe to say that the sudden rise in population and megacommuters has made car-mongering monsters out of all of us.

My last road trip made one thing incredibly clear for SoCal: people know the difference between the slow lane and the fast lane; they don’t tail gate and they appear to leave more than one car’s length of space between the person ahead of them (common knowledge);  truck drivers stay in the slow lane or pass one lane over only when necessary and merge back at the first chance.

Everyone was driving fairly fast, but safely, and those who were slow knew their place.  I didn’t feel like someone would cut me off at any second.  I actually felt safe and respected on the road, a new feeling, which sadly means I don’t feel this way in the Bay.  Wow.

As far as I’m concerned, L.A. is commuter dreamland compared to what I’m used to.  Was it a fluke?  Was I driving on a particularly nice day?  I kept my eyes wide open to any sudden changes because I couldn’t believe what I was experiencing.

As I sang Stevie Nicks, happy as a clam alone in my Ford Fusion, I was also in disbelief realizing that I’ve apparently become so accustomed to bad bay commuters I didn’t even realize the severity of it all.

But how could I not?  Why have I — any of us — been putting up with this kind of disrespect and unsafe driving practices?  This kind of driving behavior even seems to be leaking into other areas like the Central Valley.  It’s an epidemic.

However, this makes perfect sense because commuters from the Central Valley to the Bay Area are becoming more and more common and is said to be one of the 10 busiest megacommutes in the nation.  Not only are we fighting our way through our own traffic, we’re competing with  people commuting from up to 95 miles away!

On my drive home from L.A. I paid particular attention to the driving conditions because I still couldn’t believe what I had experienced two days prior on my drive down.  Low and behold, turns it wasn’t a dream.

I watched as semi-truck drivers respected the space of those of us driving smaller cars.  Slower drivers in the fast lane switched lanes because get this: they’re considerate.

For all the lanes in between, cars passed by if they wanted to drive slightly faster than the car ahead of them, and without a death stare through their window, tailgating or so much as a threatening screech of their gas pedal.

Was I still in California or had I died and been transported to commuter heaven?  Most dumbfounded of all, I was driving at the end of a three-day weekend, which as everyone knows should be chaos.

Then, just like clockwork as I entered the northern parts of my beloved Golden State, a switch flipped and  I didn’t need a big green highway sign to tell me so:  I had left commuter heaven and was now in commuter hell.

Semi-trucks were holding up traffic and passing one another, driving far faster than 55 mph (on average the legal speed for semis).  Drivers in the fast lane should have been in the slow lane and wouldn’t take a hint from the line of cars behind them.  Frustrated people tailgated in every single lane, even if the lane next to them was completely free of cars.

My life felt slightly threatened.  Not even five minutes ago I was cruising without a care, following the common sense rules of the road, feeling less stressed and enjoying my time alone.  I recalled only moments ago taking in the breathtaking green hills and the fields of flowers and happy cows.  It was peaceful…for a moment.

By the time I reached San Jose I was irritable, tired and done driving.  I could blame my event-packed weekend, the long drive or that Popeye’s was sold out of the one item I wanted to order, but thinking about it now, why didn’t I think to also blame the other drivers?

Yes, driving is tiring — but not for me.  I enjoy it.  For the most part.  But now I’m realizing the grass is greener elsewhere, drought or no drought makes a girl wonder.  What else am I missing out on?  What else is Silicon Valley…no Norther California keeping secret besides bad driving manners?

I often take side streets to get home because dealing with bumper to bumper traffic, tailgaters and oblivious lane-changers is a stress I would rather do without — I thought this was a normal thing, but if I learned anything from my Southern California visit it’s that manners seem to go by the wayside up north.

People are out for themselves or maybe it’s a defense mechanism.  Either way, there really is no excuse.

In the end it’s not the traffic itself or the number of people, it’s the way we drive in the first place.   It needs to change because we don’t need the added stress of commuting when we’re trying to pay our rent, shorten our showers and live with our dead grass.

Besides, when did getting away with bad manners become acceptable?  Why are we punishing each other by allowing ourselves to live in commuter Hell when we could have commuter Heaven?

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