I’ve driven in a lot of different places, and I’ve found that every region has its own particular style. (In Southern California, if you’re driving below 80 MPH on the freeway, you’d better be in the slow lane.) In San Francisco, limited space, dense population, and organically constructed street grids coalesce to form a uniquely challenging driving environment. The first few times I drove in the city, I could feel minutes ticking off the end of my life. This wasn’t because I or anyone else around me was driving particularly dangerously; it was just that I wasn’t familiar with the intricacies of driving here.
I’ve been guilty of egocentric driving just as much as the next guy. Nobody likes to admit that they’re the asshole, but at some point in time, we’ve all been “that guy.” I’ve compiled this list from lessons I’ve learned and organized it based on relative levels of irritation. Shit happens, and life goes on; but if we could all agree on a few basic guidelines, the learning curve could be a little more mellow, and I think we’d all be a lot less grumpy when we finally do make it home.
1. Not making a legal turn on a red light
It’s important to stop and smell the roses now and then, but a busy intersection may not be the best place to do it. Appreciate the fact that you’re not driving in Manhattan, where red-light rights are illegal, and take advantage of that gap in traffic. And wouldn’t you know it? The same rule applies for left turns on a red light as long as you’re at the intersection of two one-way streets.
2. Driving just too fast to pass while looking for a parking spot
We’ve all been in a rush to get somewhere, but we’ve also all been desperate to find parking. If you have no other choice but to cruise the Panhandle at rush hour at 15 MPH, putting your hazards on will at least give people a heads-up that you’re not going anywhere in a hurry.
3. Turning from the middle lane
There are various one-way roads in SF that have multiple lanes. They’re like fun, mini-highways through the city. Depending on the time of day, the edge lanes are either used for parking, or cleared out as additional lanes. Be sure you’re in the farthest lane possible whenever making a turn, because becoming perpendicular to traffic is never a good idea.
4. Driving straight through an intersection with shifting lanes
You’d think driving straight through an intersection is a rule of thumb wherever you go. Not so in San Francisco, friend. The planning committees of the 1800s apparently had really crappy compasses, and the orderliness of intersections often suffered the consequences. Keep an eye on what the lines are doing, and spare yourself an awkward interaction with someone else’s fender.
5. Blocking a lane to pick someone up:
So it’s stupid-nice out, and you’re picking up your friends to go for a drive. Carpe diem, right? But when you get to your buddy’s place and can’t find parking, there’s an important choice to be made: do you pull into a driveway or double-park? Consider the likelihood of someone needing that driveway right then versus the guarantee of someone needing the road you’re currently parked in. Unless your friend lives in a firehouse, blocking a driveway for a few minutes will surely be far less aggravating to the world at large.
6. Cutting across multiple lanes to make a turn
GPS can get you only so far in a city like this. At some point in time, we’ve all wound up on the right side of the road when we needed to make a left. Nobody likes admitting defeat, but take a deep breath, go around the block, and try again.
7. Backing up against traffic to get a parking spot
You want that spot. You NEED that spot. And it's only one car length behind you. Unfortunately, there is also a line of cars rapidly stacking up behind you, honking in a chorus of frustration. However desperately optimistic you may be, you have to admit that your chances of making it into that spot are slim. Cross your fingers, take a lap around the block, and come at it when there’s a break in traffic.
8. Cutting in line instead of waiting your turn
If you’ve ever tried to get on I-80 between 4:00 and 6:00 p.m., you’ve seen the line of cars backed up for blocks in every direction. Oak Street between Webster and Octavia Streets is the worst example of this. It is tempting to drive to the front and sneak in when the cars start to move, but just remember that we all want to get to Oakland as much as you do. Be a kind stranger (instead of a dick stranger), and wait your turn.
9. Blocking an intersection instead of waiting for another light cycle
Most of the driving faux pas listed here are committed unintentionally. However, mashing the gas on a yellow light when there’s nowhere to go is like farting in an elevator: you know what you’re doing is wrong, but you go and do it anyway. Even though the blockade of traffic will eventually move forward and allow the rest of Market Street to get on its way, the world would be a better place if you just waited another two minutes behind the light.
10. Shutting down an entire portion of San Francisco to make a fundraising speech
All right, I get it. You’re the leader of the free world. There are a whole bunch of wealthy constituents in San Francisco, and you really don’t want to have to worry about traffic on your way in from the airport. But come on Barry! You have a helicopter. Putting an entire neighborhood on lockdown while you go make a speech is not going to win any hearts and minds.