Rules of the road

Governor Locke, there is a traffic emergency in Seattle. I suggest we immediately convene a regionwide summit to seek consensus on the following agenda items.

SUV Training: You and I know what SUVs are: our age's answer to the cast-iron codpiece, protective and oh-so-large to impress your enemies. Have you ever seen Henry VIII's armor? Well, in SUV terms, Henry rated a . . . let's call it a Lincoln Navigator. At least, that's what Henry VIII wanted you to believe.

But too many people are thinking with their SUVs! Driving has become dramatically uncivil since they proliferated (not to mention dirtier and more crowded). Part of the problem is that most SUV drivers don't know how to handle their hormones behind the wheel. And just anyone can buy and drive one. My friend Carol has a great idea: She advocates that all SUV drivers be required to have a special license, just like truck drivers and motorcycle riders do. They clearly need to learn things like common courtesy and that four-wheel drive does not protect you from black ice.

Ford, which makes some of the biggest and most popular SUVs, announced last week that it was ashamed of itself and would try to make them more environmentally friendly, but in the meantime, they threw up their hands: What can we do? We can make $15,000 net profit for each one we sell! People want 'em. OK, let's at least make sure they're qualified to drive 'em.

Jaywalking Classes: We're at that awkward point in our development where the old "no-jaywalking" culture is pass鬠but locals don't know how to jaywalk safely and smartly in ways that don't stop traffic or create hazards. In the old days, no one jaywalked, so no problem. In places like New York, where everyone jaywalks, it's also no problem: Everyone knows the rules, and only smart jaywalkers live to jaywalk another day. Here, though, a growing number of jaywalkers are wandering into the streets with Seattle's patented cluelessness—like the two mothers I saw this weekend, jaywalking across major arterials with baby strollers. What the hell were they thinking? Your baby is not a crosswalk.

We need some street-savvy jaywalkers to teach us the ropes or (and I think this unlikely) to go back to the old days.

Signaling: Have you noticed that a majority of drivers on the road today consider signaling to be optional? The guys in the blinker industry must be going nuts because no one is wearing this part out anymore. And hand signals? As obsolete as communicating by semaphore.

Not only does not signaling create dangerous situations, it erodes everyone's ability to drive with confidence: You never have a clue anymore where the other person is going.

Traffic circles: They continue to proliferate, clogging neighborhood streets and blocking intersections. Yes, some people love them, but this city and its grids aren't designed for them. They confuse drivers and contribute to gridlock by eliminating short-cuts and secondary routes. Plus, you know those cute little gardens some people make out of them? Well, most of them are pathetic, and I'm sure the plants enjoy the extra carbon monoxide. In Kirkland, someone has taken a traffic barrier and filled it with sand, rocks, and desert flora, as if it's Palm Springs. Note to Californians: Please leave the horned toads and palm trees behind—we don't need any "cheering up."

Also, if the newspapers are right and Mt. Rainier is gonna blow some day, just imagine trying to evacuate the city with all those traffic circles. Seattle will become the new Pompeii.

Status car creep: We used to be notorious as a place where millionaires drove Dodge Darts. No more. Lots of option money is wheeling around in the form of German engineering and Italian design. So here's one thing I've noticed: The people who drive these high performance cars turn, change lanes, accelerate, and decelerate as if we were all driving Porsches instead of Plymouth Acclaims. I've noticed more tailgating because smaller, older, or just plain slower cars can't speed up enough to satisfy those with jillions of horses under the hood.

Their proliferation adds urgency to our need to agree on what the rules of the road are in the year 2000. Otherwise, road rage will continue to be all the rage.

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