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Efficient Driving Tips – Karma for Birders

By March 4, 2013November 8th, 2021Energy Efficiency, Energy Rant

One of the things we do on this blog is provide information you won’t find anywhere else, easily anyway.  In this post, you will find efficient driving tips, information and/or policy suggestions not published anywhere else; I promise.  Well, the WWW is quite large so you may find it all in a week or two of searching, but I will do my best.

Let me prove this from the jump with an analysis of how much energy a typical driver burns up in their brake pads every year.  To wit (see image to the left):

There.  The average driver wastes 20 gallons of gasoline per year through the use of brakes, just stopping at traffic lights[1].  I challenge you to find this anywhere else on the WWW or the universe at large.  Dazzle your spouse and kids with the fact that slamming on the brakes wastes 219,000 Newton-meters.

Efficient driving tip number 1: avoid excessive brake use.

My car weighs about 3,000 lbs, and therefore, according to the above analysis, I burn up about 15 gallons per year in my brake pads.  For the same car, this is three tanks of gasoline.  For the same car, I burn a little under a tank driving to work and back each week.  Therefore, roughly 3% of my fuel consumption is wasted on my brake pads.  Try to find that number anywhere.

So, why for the love of Pete is there no policy to curtail needless, excessive stopping at traffic lights?  All traffic lights on main arteries should be timed for the speed limit.  In La Crosse, where I work, many streets have timed lights, although some are really done poorly.  The downtown north/south thoroughfares are timed well.  Some things that tick me off as a driver:

  • Dawdling along at 15-20 mph.  It’s 25 mph, man.  Drive like you mean it.  We have places to go.  You are wasting everyone’s gasoline and ruining the planet!
  • People who stop an entire slug[2] of traffic for one or two or three pedestrians at a cross walk.  Dude, they (including I) can wait like everyone else for orderly flow of traffic.  I have about 50,000 miles of running, 95% of it on roads, streets and sidewalks, and I respect others’ time and energy.  I rarely punch the button at a traffic light to cross because it unduly wastes time for drivers.  Lights change on their own.  Pedestrians can go with the flow of traffic and not make their own traffic patterns.  You won’t find this courtesy tip anywhere either.
  • Drivers who stop an entire slug of traffic to let another driver onto the road.  Note to driver: you are wasting gobs of other peoples’ time and gasoline.  Knock it off!  You won’t find this anywhere either.
  • Lights that are not timed for the speed limit.  Back when I lived in Madison, although I rarely drove it because I biked and walked to class and many other places, the lights on University Avenue through the heart of campus were timed for 35 mph and the speed limit was 30 mph.  The lights were begging drivers like me to speed.  If anyone has an estimate for risk of getting busted for 5 mph over the speed limit, I could do a cost/benefit analysis of breaking the speed limit to save energy.

This reminds me of a true story:  A few years ago when we worked in our previous office, I drove West Avenue, one of three main north/south thoroughfares in La Crosse, for the commute.  BTW, it’s in the middle of town, so I haven’t a clue why it was named West Avenue.  It’s also the eastern border of downtown.  No sense whatsoever.

Anyway, lights on West Ave were timed for 25 mph, the speed limit, exactly, and I mean exactly.  There is about a mile stretch one place between lights and if a driver goes 26 mph, they will have to hit the brakes at the end of the stretch.

One day I was cruising at 25 mph minding my own business in the right lane allowing ignorant drivers to pass me so they could stop at the red light.  A woman was caught up behind me for a couple blocks as the left lane wasn’t moving much faster.  When she finally got past me, she cut in front of me, turned around, and flipped me the middle digit as she stomped on the gas.  Picture this.  A block or two ahead, a policeman was monitoring traffic.  He pulled out in front of me to nab the birder.  I moseyed into the left lane to drive around the pulled-over birder who was surely being booked.  I proceeded to cruise on through the green light without a twitch the entire time.  Karma.

What frustrates me is untimed or poorly timed lights.  On the way home from work, the traffic lights on South Ave (same illbegotten name derivation as West Ave) are timed, somehow, for something, but I don’t know what.  For example, if I get hooked at the Ward Avenue intersection headed out of town, I might as well pull over for a couple minutes because I get nailed at every single last bloody light to the edge of town – no kidding.  It seems to work better if I speed about 10 mph over the limit, hit the Ward Ave light when it’s green, and cruise all the way without stopping at any of the rest.

You can see (hear, feel and experience especially when riding shotgun) that I am a hard core, hard wired efficiency freak.  I have plenty more efficient driving tips to share on down the road.

[1] Not bad for off the cuff.  This is about the same quantity of gasoline for a car at 30 mpg to go about a quarter mile.
[2] Slug is a term my roommate and I coined for a big wad of traffic flowing between timed lights.
Jeff Ihnen

Author Jeff Ihnen

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  • Rob says:

    Along Avenue of the Saints, a four-lane divided highway between St Paul, Minnesota and St Louis, Missouri, there are three stop lights. All three of them are in Cedar Falls, Iowa and during the day you will inevitably have to stop at two of them.

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