Driving in Waco: A confession and a warning

By Ferrell Foster

First, I should confess that I have a problem. I tend to get a bit aggressive when driving, especially regarding people who speed up to get ahead and pull in front of me and then break because they were going too fast. It’s especially irritating when there is plenty of space behind me.

I don’t mean to get aggressive, but I do. I think it’s part of getting older. I can no longer take out my competitiveness on a sporting field. My two human wheels no longer work so well, so I need to give my four automotive wheels a workout.

You’re probably wondering if I have an aggression problem in general. No. It’s really odd that the only time I really get wound up is when I drive around stupid people. And then I get stupid right along with them. (Forgive me, Mom; I know I’m not supposed to call anyone stupid, including myself. Moms haunt us even when we are 65.)

Now, for a public safety warning. It’s not a warning about me. I’ve only had one wreck in my 50 years of driving. Even when dealing with road rage, I tend to obey the laws.

Many of you know that I only moved to Waco last year and didn’t drive much in the early months because of the need to hide from other people due to COIVD. As things have gotten closer to normal, one thing has stood out vividly.

People in Waco like to run red lights. I don’t know if the yellow lights are shorter than in most places or if Wacoans are more impatient or more distracted by their phones. Maybe it’s just peer pressure; when everyone seems to be running red lights you feel a certain cultural pressure to conform and speed up on red. Check your rearview mirror if you are stopping under a yellow light; you may have to let off your brake.

Is this my imagination? Or is it just the traffic corridor that connects my office with my house — roughly the Extraco Events Center to near Hewitt?

Last year I wrote several pieces under the heading of being “New to Waco,” at the request of Ashley Thornton. I still feel new in some ways and thought I should warn those who are newer than me.

Of course, every town has its red-light runners, but they seem to have multiplied here. It seems with each light change it is more likely that someone will run a red light than that no one will. And I’m not talking about the light turning red while the car is already in the box; I’m talking about blatant red running.

So, for all of my love for this community, this is one thing that’s a little scary. When entering an intersection, be sure to look both left and right. There are people out there who are either color blind or cavalier about the meaning of a bright red light hanging from a pole in the middle of the street.

Let’s be careful out there so we can enjoy one another. And I promise I’m working on my driving. I’m seeking to make driving a moment of Zen so I can pretend the goings on around me are peripheral to reality. Of course, the truth is that Zen or no Zen, we can kill each other out there in a blink of the eye or a glance at a phone.

I’m loving Waco, even on the road.

Ferrell Foster is acting executive director of Act Locally Waco and senior content specialist for care and communication with Prosper Waco.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

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  1. Tom "Top" Clark on June 11, 2021 at 8:58 am

    You hit the nail on the head. I have lived and driven all over the US, and haven’t seen any drivers who are more determined to drive unsafely. A lot of people driving here need to attend drivers safety school. Or, they should not be driving at all.

  2. D. J. Hataway on June 13, 2021 at 1:52 pm

    I have been living here for twenty-six years now and the problem you describe only seems to be getting worse. Aggressive drivers, distracted drivers, and worse leading to unnecessary accidents and deaths. People in the Greater Waco area need to rethink how and when they drive. I also think Waco and McLennan County officials need to reprioritize roadways when committing to an annual budget. Our area has grown quite a bit in the past twenty plus years but our roadways have not kept up. Waco Drive and Sanger Drive, for example, need to be expanded to three lanes each way with a well developed turning lane. That means some businesses, homes, and apartments will have to be torn down, but that is the cost of an ever increasing metropolitan area.

    • Dave Morrow on June 16, 2021 at 9:09 pm

      D.J. I respect that you have lived here 26 years and have seen many changes. I also agree that aggressive and distracted drivers are a big problem. I worked as a transportation planner before moving here 7 years ago and know how to access and analyze state and federal transportation data. Looking at the past 5 years of available data, Waco has about 30-40% higher crash/fatality rates compared to comparable cities nationwide (the range is for car or ped/bike deaths/serious injuries). This is a big issue to me,and I raised it in my Mayor campaign last year. I lost, so I don’t have a lot of expectations for change.

      My perception is the causes of problems with bad driving identified by Mr.Foster are multifold. This is only my observation, based on my experience driving in all 50 states. #1 Waco has a very high poverty rate. We are twice the state poverty average, and Texas has one of the highest poverty rates (Missiissipi beats us). Poor people often have poor driving education oppportunities. Bad education = bad drivers. . #2 Waco has a high rate of drug use – talk to any cop – meth is a huge problem here. Meth leasds to aggressive driving. Ask any cop. #3 Waco’s streets were not built for current traffic volumes, and here has been ad-hoc expansion without holistic modleing. #4 Most importantly, there are about 70,000 vehicles that drive into Waco each day and then leave at night. This ifct s straight from the City traffic engineer. What we have, is people who do not live in the City, they are not invested in the City or its neighborhoods, and they have very little respect for residents. They drive like selfish little punks.

      I believe that the sprawling development patterns in the outskirts of Waco are going to promote more traffic congestion because people are moving to areas where there is nothing to walk to. Bike lanes are absent. Public transit is limited and very slow. So people drive. Look at all the new houses being built in China Springs, Hidden Valley, etc. Alllthose new people are going to drive a lot – where do you grocery shop or work in China Springs? Bad land use planning leads to bad outcomes – at least for traffic.

      Finally D.jj there is an important lesson many cities have learned about widening roads. IF YOU BUILD IT THEY WILL COME. Adding more lanes basically encourages more traffic to use that route. There are literally hundreds of studies showing that widening roads as a sole fix does not work. If 10 lane freesways solved problems Los Angeles would be paradise.

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