I’m left-handed. My political views lean vaguely leftward. I tend to think of leftness as quirky and creative, not hampered by always being right. However, when it comes to Houstonians, driving and left turns, I’m starting to hate the whole direction.
I began noticing the rash of left-turn abuse more than a year ago, when I was in a left, optional-turning lane downtown and someone two lanes to the right of me decided he absolutely needed to make a left turn that very instant, forcing me to do so as well to avoid getting hit. This was not a one-time occurrence. More and more I see drivers take left turns wherever and whenever they feel like it.
Evenings when I head north on the one-way section of Shepherd near Washington, I’m always on the lookout for oncoming headlights. Lately drivers seem to feel there’s no real harm taking a left the wrong way down one-way Shepherd as long it’s only a block or so into the parking lot of BRC, Branch Water Tavern or Kicks. I’d like to blame these incidents on alcohol or confusion about the area, but I’m almost certain the cause is laziness and a sense of left entitlement.
As Houstonians we do have a sense of entitlement when it comes to driving and the left. I think it begins on our freeways.
Immediately upon entering any freeway, many of us have an instinct to get as far left as possible. I never really noticed I was doing this, until I was driving with a friend of mine from Austin, who declared that all the Houstonians he knows claim that left lane as our personal property.
I’d like to say we tend to head left on freeways because of our poetic souls which send us ever left-ward into the unknown or that we have 21st-century pioneering personalities, always ready to go where others will not, always racing forward. But let’s face it, we head left-ward because we have an instinct for survival.
We head left because most far right lanes are only there for a brief moment before they’re sending everyone back onto the feeder. We can’t trust the middle lanes either because whatever freeway we want to be on will likely be turning into a freeway we don’t want to be on very soon.
Houston freeways are always splitting, branching, looping and name-changing. From above they look like they were woven by a giant, insane, drunken spider. Hugging the left is sometimes the only way to simply go straight.
We fly up the on ramp, left-turn signal ever blinking — for some drivers, never blinking — and head ever left-ward because we know we’re close to breaking the sound barrier and if we don’t get to the left, I-10 or 610 or 59 or the Beltway will make a sneaky surprise split on us and somehow, before we know it, we’re dumped onto the streets of downtown Dallas dazed and appalled.
The problem comes when some of us get back into street traffic and maintain that sense of left possession. Of course, Houston drivers do make hazardous right hand turns from middle lanes too, but it seems like it’s the left ones where people get really creative.
I don’t care how much property taxes they pay, or how big their car is, drivers do not have some Houston-given right to hang a left whenever they feel in the mood for a little left-ness.
So please fellow Houstonians, when you find yourselves in that Westheimer middle lane and realize you’re about to miss your left turn. Instead of crossing three lanes of traffic and nearly killing the guy to left driving straight ahead, try this: Keep going through the intersection, turn your blinker on, move into the left lane when you safely can and turn left at the next street.
That’s right, go one street out of your way and go back around. You might have added about three minutes onto your journey, but I promise, you will not accidently find yourself in Dallas.