Saturday, April 10, 2010

Drive to Work

Daily commute could be tiring especially when the commute is over 30 minutes. My drive to work is about 16 miles. It takes me 30 minutes to 45 minutes to drive the distance depending on the time I leave home or work. As more and more new homes built north to where I live, the traffic has been getting heavier every year.

Finding optimum routes

Since driving 1 hour or more is a daily activity, it is worthwhile to optimize my routes to and from work. I studied local map carefully, and talked to long time residents to select several routes to try when we first moved to north Texas. Eventually I picked one route for going to work and a different route to come home. In the years since I also identified a few alternate routes in case of major traffic jams on my main routes.

There are 26 traffic lights along my route to the work, and there are 27 traffic lights on the way home! I usually need to stop at one quarter of them or less.

Occasionally I do doubt that if the routes I chose are optimum routes, but each time I changed route, I found out that it took longer time to get to my destination.

Recognize Traffic pattern

To have a smooth drive, it is very important to identify or recognize traffic patterns at different times and locations. At certain times leaving home or office just a couple minutes later or earlier could add a few minutes drive time.

For example, on home bound route, there are two school zones, if I leave work at 4:20pm, I will encounter heavy traffic due to after-school rush, adding 4 to 5 minutes drive time due to the traffic jam than leaving at 4:30pm.

Usually the earlier you leave home, the lighter the traffic is. Not always so, there could be mini traffic jam at early hours as well. I found this out recently. One day I left home shortly after 7am, when I reached Preston/Legacy intersection, I found out that the length of south bound traffic was very long, as long as usually seen around 7:40am or so.

Traffic lights at different time of the day and different locations have their patterns as well. Before 7am traffic lights change quickly when sensing a car is coming, and "stop" is short, after 7am, traffic lights at major intersections have a fixed program to change per sensors' signal. Identification of the patterns helps one to minimize or even eliminate idle times at traffic lights - sometimes you need to slow down just a bit, other times you have to speed up.

One day, on the way to work, I turned right to Parker road, driving slightly below speed limit, a BMW following me , sped passing my Odyssey at about 50mph, it reached and stopped at the next traffic light, about 10 seconds ahead of me, when I got there the light turned green just in time, I passed the BMW at 35mph! The BMW sped up again, just to stop at the next traffic light :(, waiting for me to pass it again!! This happened 3 traffic lights in a row. I was amused by the situation, the BMW driver on the other hand was apparently annoyed by the way the BMW was accelerated.

Of course traffic flow pattern and traffic light patterns vary slightly day to day. Traffic light patterns can be easily changed temporarily by the signal jamming of emergence vehicles or police cars . Be observant of traffic flow around and ahead of me, pay attention to the next traffic light, all can help me to minimize idle time and have a smooth drive.

With minimum idle time, my Odyssey's efficiency remains at ~ 21mph local - just as good as it was brand new.

Defensive driving

Keeping space. The car in front of me can have a sudden stop, my mind could drift momentarily though it rarely occurs, I usually keep a three car length distance from the car ahead of me at 40mph - allowing about 2 second reaction time. I stick to my rule no matter being tail gated or not. Typically a tailgater will change lane to pass me. A consequence of doing this daily turns out to be that the car behind me usually follows the 2 second rule as well - creating a safe driving bubble.

Don't insist on right of way. I let aggressive drivers pass or cut unless I can safely block them. For obviously erratic drivers, I always let them pass and keep a safe distance. One morning on the way to work, I noticed that a station wagon in front of me could not stay in a lane, I slowed down to have a safe distance from it, but I was still right behind it at next intersection, because both the wagon and my van were to make a left turn. I made a slow left turn following the wagon, the wagon was driven on to the curb into the sidewalk after the turn. Because of the space I kept from it, I safely avoided it.

Avoid potential risk factors. This helps to significantly reduce probability of accidents. Due to development a new office park at Hedgecox and Preston, a short cut street is formed - making driving distance about 0.1 mile shorter and avoiding the major intersection. Initially I used the short cut daily unless the weather was not good. Using the short cut can let me beat two traffic lights at two major intersections on Preston, saving me 2 to 3 minutes. After a while, I found that it was too risky, there is no traffic light at the left turn, the traffic north bound has been increasing, even with rush I could not beat the traffic lights half of the time. So I stopped using the short cut, instead I do not drive at this section of Preston at full speed after the left turn traffic light and minimize the idle time at the second traffic light.

Enjoy the drive

I used to listen to audio CD of novels for quite some time, and i also listened to classical music on CD. Now I just listen to radios since there are enough choices on the radio - NPR 90.1FM for news, 101.1FM for classical music, 99.5FM for country, 91.7FM for variety of current musics.

The routes I take, run east to west more than half of the time. That, along with the wavy road, provide many good opportunities to watch Moon set in the west sky in the morning, and Sunrises in the east sky from rear view mirror . Over the years I saw orange full Moon, light yellowish full Moon and of course the white Full Moon in the mornings many many times. The best time to watch Sunrise is early spring - a few weeks ago - when Sunrise is around 7am, and the best place to watch on my route to work is on Park Road between Midway road and Marsh lane.

Occasionally I saw spectacular lightnings during thunderstorms, rainbows are treats from sunny summer afternoons right after rains. One day I drove home in a heavy rain, but the Sun came out when I was close to home, I saw a huge rain bow in the northeast sky, it was still there when I got home, gradually fading away.

Another occasional entertainment is to observe impatient drivers changing lanes frequently, accelerating and braking frequently without gaining much, like the BMW driver I mentioned earlier.

However accidents on the road do happen, traffic lights malfunction unfortunately not too rarely, then optimum route is not optimum any more, traffic patterns are gone. I take whatever I get on the road, take it easy, enjoy my drive to my destinations - office and home.

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