May 19, 2010

Colorado Diary - Traffic

To talk about the traffic in US by observing how the rules are followed in Fort Collins is like an extrapolation outside of the domain, which is prone to lot of error due to uncertainty. So in this article, I am going to talk only about the traffic at Fort Collins. As I had mentioned earlier, Fort Collins is a college city, with the population majority from college students who are either in their teens or early twenties.

The city is well connected by roads and all roads are either parallel or perpendicular thus forming a regular rectangular grid like pattern. The major roads are identified, and are within 1/4 to 1/2 mile (they don't follow metric system in the US). Majority of the people living in Fort Collins owns at least one car. The city's major roads are also connected by the city bus transport called Transfort. A single ride in Transfort cost $1.25, 60 cents for senior citizens, free for kids under 17 and for CSU students with a valid ID (its called as Ram card).

There are three important junctions, aka transit centres; the one closest to the CSU is called CSU transit centre, the one in the north is called as Downtown transit centre, and the other own down south is called South transit centre. Buses are numbered from 1 to 17, the route map is available at any of these transit centres, or at the apartment's front office for the benefit of new visitors. Each bus starts from their particular destination which is one of the three transit centres and always proceed in one direction in a cyclic manner.

Contrast to the keep-left rule in India, the vehicles move in the right lane of the road in the US. At any of the 3 or 4 way junction, the vehicles traveling in all direction comes to a halt even if there is no signal, and are proceeded on first come first drive basis. I call it as a gentleman agreement as the drivers agree the order unanimously without any conflict. Horn is used only when somebody is angry with your driving, which is the case when either you don't follow the lane rule, or when you don't listen to other vehicle's movement.

School zone and other important zones are identified and speed limits are mentioned. The lowest speed is near the school zone where the speed limit is set to 20 mph. To say that they obey those traffic rule is an understatement. Because they religiously follow it. Preference are given to pedestrians and heavy vehicles such as trucks wherever possible.

Since I don't own or use a car here for my transport, I will talk about the bus service at Fort Collins. All buses are air conditioned and has two exit doors whose functioning is controlled by the driver. The buses are equipped with video and audio recording device for the security purpose. The front half of the bus is designed to provide comfort traveling to old people and people with disability. The bus is also designed to lower itself using pneumatic control for easy boarding of these people.

Every bus has a chord passing above the shoulder level connecting from the first seat to the last which is operated by the passenger to request the driver to halt at the next bus-stop. People pull the chord, sit on their seats till the bus comes to a full halt, get down the bus and say "thanks" to the driver. Most of them are lot more friendlier and say "have a good day" in addition to saying thanks.

The bus driver waits until the lane is clear before starting from any bus-stop. Once he starts from a particular place, he doesn't have rights to stop in between to take-in or drop a passenger until he reaches the next one. In order to not to miss a stop, the driver announces the next stop over mike well ahead of it. The gentleman's agreement follows even with the co-passengers. If you are sitting in any of the front seat at the latter half of the bus, got up from your seat to get down, the co-passenger who is getting down at the same stop coming from behind will stop, allow you to move ahead and then gets down. One can see this gentleman's agreement at many places, such as from a parking lot, or while driving out from a mall or an apartment.

Its a human's nature to compare things what we have got with what we see. I personally believe that its not a good idea to compare, because the system which works at Fort Collins might not work in Chennai for various reasons.  In this  post, I have tried to avoid comparison to the possible extent by putting things only that I observe in writing.