October 25, 2006

Traffic rules, pools and suicides

Driving and traffic are such omnipresent issues in LA, so I feel we need to talk about car pools and suicide lanes. I have never seen anything like it, although I believe they are testing the carpool lane in South Africa at the moment. But first things first:

A suicide lane is the very middle lane on a lot of multi-lane roads in LA. It is demarcated by double yellow dotted and unbroken lines on either side and
gets its name from the fact that people travelling in either direction can use it.

Basically, the first person to pull into the suicide lane decides which way the traffic flows down it - if you're unlucky, you will have put yourself in a suicidal position - although It's not as dramatic as it sounds. You would normally use it as a slip way to do a left turn, so nobody drives in it for long stretches and you mostly stop dead ('xcuse the pun) in the suicide lane to perform said left turn into a driveway or whatever. It's an interesting concept with a scary name.

A car pool, on the other hand, has no water in it. Just diamond shapes painted on the tarmac and loads of signs warning of a minimum fine of $271 for abuse. (Why specifically two-hundred and seventy-ONE Dollars, I have no idea.) It is the far left lane on the highway and it can only be used if there are two or more people travelling in the same vehicle. It is blocked off from the rest of the highway by thick lines of paint, with occasional gaps for entering and leaving the lane.
What's amazing about that is that people actually respect those painted stripes. I was in a car with someone when I suddenly realised we were eligible for the car pool lane and wanted to shoot over the lines at a non-entry point. The friend I was with vehemently discouraged that and so I had to wait for the next break in the lines.

In France, you would need a knee-high concrete wall to stop people from weaving in and out of the car pool lane at will, and even then you can't be sure some reckless youth wouldn't just try to ramp it anyway! Quite apart from the fact that you would NEVER be able to persuade the French to respect the "2 or more people only" rule of access.

Now I'm so paranoid about doing anything wrong in the car pool lane that I was in a state of high anxiety whilst using it in rush hour traffic with a friend who was napping on the back seat of his car. I kept freaking out, asking him to "please sit up!" so everyone could see I wasn't cheating! Of course, he was quite grumpy about having to interrupt his nap and "sit up for the cameras" and kept saying, "They have to pull you over before they can fine you!", but I was certain they would just take a picture of me (with what camera I don't know, but I suspect traffic cops to be capable of miracles after my disappearing sign board incident) and then HOW was I going to prove I had a sleeping passenger in the back?

Speaking of which, Santa Monica rescinded my parking ticket from last year, but failed to inform me of that by letter or carrier pigeon or any other means of communication and have obviously not come through in the refund department either. Two phone calls and one 'urgent request for refund' later and I'm still waiting.... (luckily not holding my breath, mind you)

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