by: Stéphane Tessier
Ottawa is my home. I live here by choice because there are more things that I like and fewer things that I dislike than any other place I have lived in or visited.
That being said, Ottawa is home to the worst drivers on earth!
My bone fides justifying this lamentation are strong. My trembling hands steered free from harm in the streets of the Moroccan Intifada, symbiotically merged onto the FDR expressway from the Lower East Side at midday, slalomed by debris on D.C.’s Beltway (teapots, I presume) and dodged a gunfight on the Dan Ryan Expressway in Chicago’s South Side. (I have no idea who Dan Ryan was, but I am certain he was shot driving there.)
There is form in your ineptitude. “We are cautious,” you protest as you read these words. You are wrong.
Ottawa drivers are slow, indecisive and operate heavy equipment as though addicted to analgesics. You drive insecurely the way a junior staffer struggles with the regulations pursuant to the Public Service Employment Act. This is why you slow down the day before a snowstorm or fit your cars with snow tires in August.
Levity aside, consider the speed limit. I mean, would you please consider driving at the speed limit? You only live once, so get there already.
The left lane is the passing lane. This is not a euphemism; it is intended for faster drivers, by law. However, on the Queensway—never to be confused with the Speedway—the left lane is perpetually clogged up by clueless, passive-aggressive barriers like trans fats welling in the arteries of an American teenager. If you want to get anywhere fast on the Queensway, stay in the right lane. Too many times, my wife and I have breezed past traffic on the right side, technically in the wrong lane, with contempt painted on our faces because there is no other place to be. And we get the dirty looks.
Minivan! Grandma! You in the BMW! The reason the objects in your rear-view mirror appear so big is that you are so slow. Move over and get out of the way of faster traffic. The far right lane is always the right choice for you. You can knit in that lane. If you follow my advice, the red-faced gesticulating maniacs playing in your mirror will be gone for good.
I think the Queensway is haunted by the ghosts of donkeys who got run over by Lemonade trucks. There must be apparitions of some sort to cause those mysterious bottlenecks that paralyze traffic only to clear up and melt away for no other reason than there is clear road ahead. But there was clear road ahead before! How does this occur? No accident, no impediment (a refrigerator in the middle lane, like what you see in Detroit), no police activity.
Oh, but there is a policeman – on the other side of the road. And you jump on the brakes, don’t you? Folks, the nice policeman is busy fining a naughty driver going in the other direction so please keep up the pace for the sake of those following you.
Merging traffic causes bottlenecks too, because for Ottawa drivers, merging a car onto the Queensway is more difficult than parking a spaceship in orbit around the moon of another planet in another galaxy. What are you waiting for, an invitation? If only the passing lane were the merging lane, then circulation would be fluid at all hours of the day.
One of my favorite past-times is having a summertime drink in the Market observing your travails with parallel parking. If you could only see yourselves. Consternation shatters your confidence as you attempt the manoeuvre, especially if you are on a first date; panic when you realize you are out of position; confusion over distances, angles and the pleas of mercy from the senior citizen you have trapped between two vehicles; and the vapid self-loathing when, vanquished, you flee that precious real estate for a safer and more expensive option.
Watching you trying to fit your car in a parking spot reminds me of someone trying to put the wider end of a cork back in the bottle. In, out, in, out, wriggle-wriggle, and after three minutes of this nonsense, your vehicle is still parked diagonally, one tire on the yellow line and centimeters away from your neighbour’s car. Take care to notice that in Ottawa, everyone’s winter jacket is smeared with slushy grime. That is from having to writhe into or out of a car sandwich. An “I Scream” sandwich (chuckle, guffaw).
At red lights, why do you wait for the car ahead of you to move before you accelerate? If you collectively accelerate when the light turns green, traffic will flow better and many more cars will make it past the light. But you don’t. Why? Because, collectively, you are bad drivers.
Responsible driving involves being aware of your surroundings, not impeding the progress of others, being technically apt to execute basic manoeuvres, driving sober, avoiding reckless speeding and respecting pedestrians. I see little of that in our city.
Ottawa, apply some mettle to the pedal, please. Be resilient. Be happy.
Stéphane Tessier is a comic, iconoclastic essayist living in Ottawa who would ride the buses more often if he had a few hours to spare.