I hate driving in Charlottesville
Charlottesville is known for a lot of things: U.Va., of course; all things Thomas Jefferson; Bodo’s — once I met someone in New York City who named their dog after Bodo’s because it’s that good — and a lot of preppy clothing. But Charlottesville is definitely not known for having good drivers.
I absolutely hate driving in Charlottesville. So do most people I know. This is saying a lot, as I hail from northern Virginia, also known as the land of the aggressive drivers. I almost died during driver’s education in the 10th grade when someone else in my car nearly drove us into the median on the Capitol Beltway during rush hour. I even spent last summer in New York, where most native adults have never operated a motorized vehicle and most cab drivers act as though they are driving in a video game and taking out a halal cart gives them bonus points. Yet the worst drivers I have ever encountered are here, in my beloved college town.
Drivers in Charlottesville are automatically at a disadvantage when it comes to driving well because the roads here make no sense. Whatever engineer designed the S-curve on Wertland Street clearly graduated from Virginia Tech, because that is an accident waiting to happen. Do a driveway, a parking lot, a side street and Wertland Street itself really need to form a letter? A four-way stop would have made so much more sense, and the law clearly presents a course of action for such an intersection. Whenever I turn into my apartment parking lot from the S-curve, my natural inclination is to close my eyes because that seems easier than dealing with the madness. Then I realize driving with my eyes closed is about as safe as the S-curve itself, so usually I resort to cursing instead.
On the roads with normal intersections, cars often line both sides of the street, making nearly every turn a blind turn. To make matters worse, it seems to be an unwritten rule that the largest, most obnoxious SUVs have to be parked closest to the intersection. And let’s be realistic: Most people near Grounds are refining their minds — or their drinking skills, depending on the day — not their parallel parking skills. Even when you are just trying to simply drive in a straight line down 14th Street, you practically have to drive in the middle of the road to avoid taking out someone’s side view mirror. If I wanted to flirt with danger on the roads, I would dig out my Game Boy and play Frogger.
Things don’t get much better when you venture farther away from Grounds. Since I work right off the Downtown Mall, I often find myself parallel parking on the side streets around Court Square. At least, that’s where I would like to find myself parking. I often can’t park there because people feel the need to leave an awkwardly large amount of space between their car and the car in front of them. I promise, you don’t need four feet of space to exit a parallel parking space. And if you do, you probably need to get your depth perception checked by your eye doctor.
Merging seems to be a novel concept for most drivers here. I know because I’ve almost been sideswiped more times that I can count and actually was sideswiped right near where the 250 Bypass merges with 29 North — during finals week, of course. It doesn’t get much better once 29 North goes down to two lanes right after you pass Wal-Mart because people wait until the absolute last minute to merge. Here’s a tip for Charlottesville drivers everywhere: Always check your blind spots before you change lanes. It’s really that simple. Everyone else: Get your horns ready, because if a merge is involved, you’re probably going to need to use them.
As I said earlier, I’m from northern Virginia, where speed limits are suggestions. A yellow light generally means five more cars can get through and a red light seems to mean two more cars can go. I realize these are not ubiquitous driving practices, but I also didn’t realize that driving five miles under the speed limit was. Is it just me, or do most people driving on Route 29 seem to hang out around 40 miles per hour? Come on, people. The speed limit is 45 miles per hour and I’m trying to get to Target so I can buy more things than I originally intended to, so really, let’s all mutually agreed to speed a little bit.
Obviously, I do not expect my 800-word manifesto about the poor state of driving in the Charlottesville area to improve anyone’s driving abilities. So instead, I offer you the advice my mom gave me when I first started driving nearly seven years ago: “Always look out for the other guy — they’re the stupid driver.”
Katie’s column runs biweekly Tuesdays. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.