I have been driving for about 19 years, and I remember vividly the run-up to getting my license: driver’s ed, the learner’s permit, sneaking the car out the day before I turned 16, wrecking it and being grounded for months.
Ah, those were the days.
Seriously, though, the license meant a kind of freedom that I felt denied in North Raleigh. I lived way down Creedmoor Road, essentially in the middle of the forest.
While I was thrilled to finally have transportation, finding my way around wasn’t easy. My friend Mark, who lived off of Falls of Neuse Road, would help me navigate, but sometimes he’d tell me to find my way own way. I never could.
Sense of direction was never something that came to me intuitively. All these years later, I still have a tendency to get lost in familiar territory. Just ask my wife.
Having said all that, I think some of the blame should go to North Raleigh. I found it impossible to understand the numerous side roads and shortcuts that help the experienced driver navigate the area.
I knew Creedmoor Road, Six Forks Road and Falls of Neuse Road. Take me anywhere else, and God help me.
Downtown Raleigh, on the other hand, I find much more intuitive. Some people find the one-way streets off-putting, but not me. The grid-like setup is much easier than North Raleigh’s winding roads.
I wondered if I was the only one who experienced this contrast. So I asked around.
Jennifer Smart has lived in Wake Forest for 17 years. She said it’s easy for her to get around North Raleigh, although all the development has made things a bit harder.
“I will get lost when I’m looking for a specific street address in a newer neighborhood where there aren’t familiar landmarks,” Smart wrote in an e-mail. “However, the larger roads are easy. Signs are well-placed and not difficult to follow. I have little anxiety driving in this area.”
Take her to downtown Raleigh, however, and you get a different story.
“My anxiety goes way up when I drive in downtown Raleigh, where the construction projects, one-way streets, and heavy traffic ... is just a lot to process behind the wheel.”
Strike one against me.
Jake Wenger of the North Raleigh School of Music said he is comfortable with North Raleigh driving, though he did note that some people find the streets’ numerous name changes confusing.
“Why give the same continuous street three different names? Duraleigh/Millbrook/New Hope?” he wrote in an e-mail.
He blames some of the problem on bad drivers.
“I feel like a lot of people aren’t paying attention,” he said. “There’s a lot of rubbernecking, lingering at green lights and people not realizing that you’re supposed to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk.”
As a musician, Wenger spends a lot of time downtown. Late-night traffic can get tricky, he said.
Strike two. Mostly, anyway.
Julia McGovern, owner of North Raleigh’s Poppyseed Market, doesn’t think North Raleigh or downtown is particularly difficult. But if you’re asking her to pick a winner, I’m afraid downtown ain’t it.
“I do think that there are people that just forgot the driving rules: like four-way stop, who goes first,” she told me via e-mail. “Another common one for me every day is the right-of-way at an intersection with no lights. People just don’t know.”
If you’re keeping score at home, that was three strikes and I’m out.
So if you see me driving aimlessly around town, well, now you know why.
Alex Granados writes about people, places and traditions in North Raleigh and beyond. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.