Monday, December 03, 2007

Snow -- rule set breakdown

Pittsburgh is now experiencing the first snow of the year. I am very glad that I am able to take the busway into work today as I will not be paying the time and frustration costs of a highly probable breakdown in the tacit rule sets that govern Pittsburgh traffic patterns.

I'm always amazed at how few accidents actually occur, especially since there are drivers like me on the roads in far too high of numbers. These accidents are so infrequent because there is a shared set of common expectations, punishments, and incentives for cooperative behavior on the road that is nowhere in the State Motorist code.

For instance, the Bate Street Ramp off of I-376 has the norm that one car can get off the highway for every car that goes down Bate Street. This is despite the fact that Bate Street drivers have the right of way and could legally flow by while I-376 backs up to several dozen exiting vehicles. The widespread acceptance of the 'Pittsburgh Left' where the first car in a left hand turning lane is expected to make the left turn even though oncoming traffic has a straight green also eases the flow. Violators, active or passive, are honked and stared at, as traffic has now frozen for a second if the left hand turn is not made, or an accident is barely avoided.

One aspect that is in the motorist code is the action of gridlock which is an action in anticipation of widespread breakdown in the formal and tacit norms of traffic. When a driver is in doubt that they'll be able to make the turn, or cross the intersection due to the actions of other drivers, they gridlock to try and gain a six inch or six foot advantage despite the significant costs imposed upon everyone else. Somehow the first snow of the year creates this very strong incentive to break the rules and lock everyone up for ninety minutes as they drive from Craig and 5th to 5th and Birmingham.

I'm glad that I don't have to drive in the snow today, all two inches of it, as people will need to remember not to be idiots.

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