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Weekly Planet Article

This is from today's Weekly Planet behind the cut

Drive Me Crazy
Some spots bring out the worst in drivers

BY SCOTT HARRELL


Traffic in Tampa Bay is bad and getting worse. Like everyone else, I'm given to bitching about it. What worries me, however, is the overwhelming attention given to known trouble spots like Malfunction Junction and Memorial Highway while a far more insidious urban menace festers unnoticed.I'm talking about those little off-freeway corners and strips of road that actually seem to nurture bad motoring habits. You can all probably name a few off the top of your head that occur along your usual routes. They might not suffer heavy congestion. They aren't even the scenes of regular horrific crashes, and that's the problem: They're places where people have gotten used to seeing other people drive like shitheads.

As a public service, and to mark the one-year anniversary of that cretin plowing into a gaggle of cyclists in St. Petersburg, here's my list of eight trouble spots. I approach each not just apprehensively, but with the full expectation of witnessing dangerously thoughtless vehicular maneuvers.

I'm not saying I've never made a stupid knee-jerk move while driving. I'm just saying these places, like others, tend to bring out the casual worst in drivers, so be advised.

The Roundabout (Clearwater Beach) I'm not saying it doesn't look very nice. But whoever birthed the notion of sticking a roundabout at the busiest point on a street utilized mostly by European tourists (who've got roundabout negotiation down to a high-speed art-form) and young American class-cutters (who think the term "counterclockwise" has something to do with time travel) should be forced to live at Rocky Point and work on Sand Key.

The Fletcher Avenue On-Ramp to I-275 Southbound (Tampa) It's a classic quick-fix for ever-escalating freeway volume -- add another turning lane to the entrance to a heavily traveled on-ramp. Of course, the other end of the ramp is still only one lane. Which means you have only about 80 yards to accelerate to 65 mph; blur by all of the vehicles to the left; insinuate yourself into a four-foot space between two cars going roughly one-sixth your speed; and come to a complete stop because I-275 is gridlocked.

Adamo Drive (SR 60), from 40th Street to Falkenburg Road (Tampa) The only drivers on this particular stretch of SR 60 who aren't regular commuters are looking for (a) some specialized industrial/wholesale business they've never been to in their lives, or (b) the sort of semi-nude strip clubs where they can drink, and maybe hit the buffet. The former have no idea as to the location of the backhoe rental center or wholesale used-drywall warehouse or whatever. The latter have a vague, hangover-associated memory to go on, but little else. In both cases, you get a lot of people paying more attention to the buildings on both sides of Adamo than to the traffic flow itself. And when they eventually find the establishment they seek, it's inevitably on the other side of the wide, busy road -- a circumstance that almost always leads to careening multi-lane swath-cutting.

E. Hillsborough Avenue, from 22nd to 50th streets (Tampa) "Dude, do you think that chick's a hooker?" "Hell yeah, dude. Look, there's another one!" "There's one over there, holy shit, dude, that dude's stopping to talk to her, dude!" "Hey, there's one right up here." "Dude! Slow down, dude, I want to check her out because this will never get old for me until I finally get the nerve to come down here by myself and get blown, dude!"

The Corner of Eighth Street N. and Ninth Avenue N. (St. Petersburg) Here, where one-way Eighth begins to angle in toward MLK's transformation to a two-way thoroughfare, you've got a pretty confusing layout: Eighth's left lane disappears just north of Fifth Avenue N., only to reappear behind the Walgreen's as a Left Turn Only lane for the light at Ninth. The asphalt is blanched and the arrows are faded, so inattentive motorists often don't realize they're in a turn-only lane until, say, three-quarters of the way through the intersection. The problem comes when, instead of accepting fate, turning left and backtracking (hell, all you gotta do is go around the Walgreen's), impatient drivers opt for a quick, signal-less fade to the right. Truism: The side of a 1976 Lincoln Town Car does not an effective shoehorn make.

Fifth Avenue N., between 21st and 16th streets N. (St. Petersburg) I had an exciting experience here riding in a cab once. But it's not just the pathologically indecisive drivers -- who'd rather drive into a fence than pick north or south -- that make this stretch so infuriating. About 50 yards back, there's a turn lane to enter I-275 headed north. And apparently, it's a magic turn lane, one with the power to cloud motorists' minds, making them forget exactly where it is until they're on top of it.

The Corner of Gandy Boulevard and Fourth Street N. (St. Petersburg) Ugh. Actually, driving the whole chunk of Gandy from I-275 east to Dave's Aqua Lounge can be a hair-raising experience, particularly during those hours between midnight and, uh, midnight. Avoid it completely. Take the scenic 83rd Avenue N. route that winds by Weedon Island, or something.

Central Avenue and Eighth Street (St. Petersburg) Like the aforementioned corner of Eighth and Ninth Avenue N., there's a Left Turn Only lane here that folks just seem inordinately stubborn about recognizing. I've seen cars gliding dreamily through the intersection from the turn-only lane that would've hit oncoming traffic, were the lanes on Central not so wide and the oncoming traffic so often positioned to turn right onto Eighth. One factor that undoubtedly leads motorists to assume the center lane offers a non-turning option is the daytime presence of a hot dog vendor on the intersection's southeast corner. I certainly don't blame the hot dog vendor, who gets plenty of my business. I blame the harried, hurried idiots too preoccupied to actually park, who clog up the right half of Central Avenue's right lane by mistaking a push-cart with an umbrella for a fucking drive-thru.

Contact Scott Harrell at 813-739-4856, or scott.harrell@weeklyplanet.com.

By the way-I turn left off 5th ave. N. onto 275 north all the time-never have a problem. What gives?

And evidently this guy never has to drive the Veteran's Expressway to 275 North because I do it every day and you wouldn't believe all the lane cutters who decide at the last minute they don't want to get on 275 so they cut across 2 lanes of traffic! I'm sure I could think of more but that would take all day.
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