Sunday, November 18, 2012

Driving Arizona

There's much that's different down here, and I don't just mean no icy roads. That does, however, affect how they build, design, and drive on the roads here. Since there's less freeze-thaw pothole creation and expensive repairs, it's easier to make a road last longer, and that makes it cheaper to make the road in the first place. So it can be  wider. Side streets in residential areas aren't affected, but freeways often have, in each direction, an HOV lane plus four or 5 more lanes of through traffic plus the entrance/exit lanes which go just between exits. It starts with the on ramp, connects for half a mile or more until the next exit, giving everybody plenty of time to change speeds and change lanes smoothly.

Contrast that with too many Minnesota freeways which have two lanes plus short merging ramps. There might be three lanes if you are lucky, and very rarely a separated extended merging area between exits.

Drivers down here are more likely to let a merging vehicle into the lane they're in. After all, there's plenty of lanes for them to more over into if a merging vehicle makes their current lane feel a bit crowded. All those lanes do not make for faster rush hours, however. I think there must be a corollary of Murphy's law that says that traffic expands to fit into the available space, and then some, just like you expand into a newer bigger house so it becomes as cluttered and crowded as the older smaller one you just left.

There are a lot of major streets that aren't freeways down here. Lay a grid over the city and every mile will have a major street, 3-4 lanes wide each way, center turn lanes, lights only every several blocks, restricted driveways into/out of those blocks. Typical speed limits are 40 or 45.  There is no on-street parking, and I mean NONE. You pull off into an area in front of stores or businesses, and there will be abundant parking there, with connections to the next lot and the next and next, so you can navigate without returning to the arterial street. A Minnesota block, by contrast, will have lots of driveway entrances and no connectors between the parking fiefdoms owned by each business.

Since it is a major deal to exit and enter each block of businesses, often requiring driving an extra block or two to make a u-turn to access a driveway, they do consistently do a couple of things down here to make it easier to plan in advance where you need to turn. First, all the even address numbers are on the north side of east-west streets, and the west side of north-south streets. Compare that to the Twin Cities where not only are different cities unlike the next but different parts of, say, Minneapolis are different from others. Here you learn one system.

Second, the street signs let you know where in the numbering system you are. One set will tell you where you are in the east-west numbers, and the opposite corner will inform you where you are in the north-south numbers.

Interesting that with all that it still takes forever to get around.

Breaks from driving are a bit different down here as well. Of course, by that I'm talking about rest stops, better known as rest rooms. It's jaw-dropping to me just how many gas stations have either no or closed-to-the public restrooms. The ones which do offer them tend to be a little light on the cleaning part of the equation. Mom would have refused to use most of the ones I've seen, but I tend to hit them when it's very necessary - very, very necessary. I've learned just which business stops offer bathrooms because they tend to be much cleaner and better equipped, say, with soap than the gas stations.

I carry hand sanitizer.

 And perhaps bless the drier climate which makes such stops less frequent.

Another difference is that so many restrooms in Minnesota have gone automated. Toilets flush after you leave, water runs when hands are under the faucet, soap dispenses likewise, towels, dryers and lights have motion sensors. They're all rare down here, and I have yet to find a restroom with all of those in place.

I haven't quite decided how much of the differences in restrooms might be a poor regard for a higher Hispanic population, or how much might simply be a poor regard for strict laws regarding such intrusive things as sanitation. As a newcomer, I may not be the best to evaluate that question.

I have noticed one more curiosity while driving around. It took me several days. There are a very few standard-looking cell towers down here. I began to notice them after I tumbled to what most of them look like: palm trees. That became noticeable after the pruning away of the dead leaves started. I began seeing which were pruned, which still had big bundles of dead leaves hanging down. Then I noticed a third variety, with green both sticking up and hanging down, nicely symmetrical and perfect. Too perfect. Too green. And too full, with what turned out to be green versions of those flat cell tower metal plates surrounding and embedded in the fake foliage. If you're not looking for them, they're well hidden. And very attractive.

That definitely wouldn't work in Minnesota though.

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