A Conversation for Driving Etiquette - USA

Chicago Driving

Post 1


As a former actual resident of Chicago, let me add a few things:

1) Stop lights/signs are optional a) after midnight, b) if you are a police officer, c) if you are in a hurry

2) Wacker drive: Wacker drive follows the North Branch of the Chicago river. It has two levels, Upper and Lower- but at some points it has 27. If you make the mistake of using Wacker drive, you will immediatly be forced onto Lake Shore Drive or I-94, in the wrong direction. Do not make the mistake of attempting to traverse Lower Wacker, as it's only purpose is as a refuge for the homeless and fleeing criminals. It's infrastructure is also wildly unstable, so you have a 50% chance of having a three metric ton chunk of concrete fall on your hood. This likelihood increases inversely with the age of your vehicle.

3) Lake Shore drive: Pay attention to the song, while being advised that there is a section of the drive called the "s-curve." It is worst when travelling northbound. The speed limit drops here from 45 to 25 and the lanes narrow to slightly less than the width of a small car. As you stand on your brakes so that you don't fly into Lake Michigan (this is not a joke) and make peace with the fact that you are making a 90 degree left turn at 75MPH, you have to instantly make a right hand turn. Just as your heart is restarting, you MUST stomp on the accelerator, lest you get rear ended.

4) Every other street: there are no laws. Expect it's one-way status to change every three blocks.

5) You know those concrete rumble stips down the middle of a divided roadway? It is perfecly acceptable to drive on these if, at some point in the future, you intend to make a left turn. It has been my experience that this terrifies non-Chicagoians to the point of insanity.

6) The Dan Ryan- the only freeway into the city from the south. It is, in one word, insane. Directionals are strictly prohibited, unless they are constantly on. Like that seedy space-port bar in the movie "Star Wars," every imaginable sort of motorized vehicle can be found here. Running down the middle of this is a leg of the commuter rail system (The Red Line, formerly the State Street Line). It is electric, and the blue sparks are blinding at night. This is for the best, as the less you see here the better.

Chicago Driving

Post 2


I have few things to add to Swalve's otherwise excellent posting on Chicago driving. I have lived in Chicago for a few years and have discovered that I love this city only when I am not driving in it. Here are four things that led me to that conclusion:

1. "The Spaghetti Bowl" highway interchange: Truly one of the most terrifying automotive experiences one can have outside of downtown Boston. Lying like a nest of snakes in a snit, the Spaghetti bowl consists of (apparently) every major interstate highway in northeastern Illinois tied into interesting and imaginative knots. I can't even tell you which highways there are in there, because I faint away into a swoon early in the list. Let me just say this: Chicago has several named expressways and four of the largest are The Kennedy, The Dan Ryan, The Stevenson, and The Eisenhower. If you want to leave any one of these roads and go onto another, gird your loins because you'll have to traverse this mighty highway interchange from hell. Be prepared to cross at least six lanes of tightly-packed, fast-moving traffic with at least two of those lanes consisting of motorists merging from another expressway, desperately trying to get where you currently are and no longer want to be. The theoretically simple act of merging onto the Kennedy from I-55 left me weeping openly in fear.

2. The way Chicago drivers change lanes. This is really remarkable to watch and would be an endless source of fascination for me if I weren't usually gasping with terror when I encounter the phenomenon. A Chicago driver will, without hesitation, move from one lane to the next even when the gap in traffic in that lane is less than half the length of their car. They will often do this suddenly and at a very high rate of speed. It would help if they signaled the lane change, but not really since these moves are begun and ended in less time than it usually takes the minds of their fellow motorists to register and process the turn signal. A good place to witness this is on the highway interchange that I discussed above.

3. Pedestrians: If you think that you are safe once you leave the expressways and that nothing will alarm you now that you have safely managed to merge from the Eisenhower to the Kennedy with your life and limbs intact, you are wrong. As you drive along the streets of Chicago, be prepared to swerve to avoid the myriad pedestrians who believe that the middle of Diversey or Ashland avenues (very busy streets) is a divine place to take a leisurely stroll. This is particularly popular late at night among people in very dark clothing. I still boggle at the casual attitude that Chicagoans have about walking in front of a line of speeding, two-ton missiles of steel and glass. In Texas, where I grew up, jay-walking like that would get you killed instantly (Texans are generally rather friendly and gracious people, unless they are driving a car are you are not). From girlhood, I learned that if you want to cross a street, you should always do it at a corner and be willing to wait until there were no cars within, say, a mile or so of the point at which you are crossing. This was just good common sense, I thought. I have since adapted my approach (which is a good thing because I spent the bulk of my first year here at the corner of Halsted and Addison waiting to cross the street). Nevertheless, I still haven't been able to work up to the cavalier attitude of the natives.

4. Getting directions in Chicago. Ask if you want, but be prepared. Chicagoans almost never tell you to turn left or right--it is always turn north, south, east, or west. This is even true in private homes--I have been told (when asking directions to the toilet) to head north until the first hallway and then go west. This is because Chicagoans always know in which direction the Lake is and the Lake is always east. Eventually, you also develop a directional sense and all becomes easy. However, for visitors, this habit can be quite annoying unless one has thought to bring a compass. The other thing a visitor to the city needs to understand is that every one here is convinced that the city is easy to navigate. In a way, this is true, thanks to Daniel Burnham's Plan of Chicago. Chicago was blessed with genius city planners when it rebuilt after the fire and is as close to a true grid as you'll ever find. As a result, with practice, you can find any home or business based on the address, even if you've never been there before. But, this skill does take practice and a more than passing familiarity with the city plan. It also necessitates having the directional sense that I mentioned earlier to really work well. So, when you ask a Chicagoan for directions, you will get a mass of "go north here, go west there, head southeast over that other way" and so on, ending with a confident "Ya can't miss it!" Well, you can miss it. Unless "it" happens to be the Sears Tower or Lake Michigan, you can miss it with surprising ease. The upside is that they all mean well.

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Chicago Driving

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