I'd like to contribute a topic question for some of the readers out there to mull over and perhaps provide a little input.

When you approach a large city, do you normally drive straight through, or do you utilize a "3di" interstate bypass?

Here is my philosophy...

First off, in earlier days of the interstate highway system (let's say up until around 1980), the expressway bypasses around big cities were indeed handy. They steered drivers around the typical congestion associated with downtown areas.

However, in recent years I've found that the bypasses have become a problem in many metropolitan areas. The development of edge cities and the growth of suburbs, with all those shopping centers, office complexes and residential areas, have generated a dramatic increase in local traffic on those 3di bypasses.

In fact, it's gotten to the point where the bypasses don't bypass anything anymore!!

I have a three-fold philosophy regarding the question of bypassing a major city or driving straight through.

First off, the best approach is to plan the travel time to avoid weekday rush hours. This is an issue that many drivers neglect. For example, an early departure from home might place you in the a.m. rush in a city three hours down the road, or in the p.m. rush in a metropolis 600 miles from home. In these cases, it is best to project your travel times along the route to figure out your location at various times of the day.

Sometimes it is better to delay your departure in the morning or quit the road in the afternoon before the rush hour begins. Another possibility is to enjoy a leisurely breakfast or dinner to pass the time during rush hour, then continue on with the trip after traffic has died down.

Secondly, look at the map closely. Does the bypass add substantial mileage to the trip? I-275 swings widely to the east around Cincinnati (extra miles), while I-294 (Tri-State Tollway)provides a "tight" bypass around the city of Chicago.

Find detailed street maps of the cities you will be passing through. Examine the interchanges on the map and see if you can follow your planned route on the exit ramps. This is especially important if you need to change highways in the middle of a city.

One time on a road trip, I was changing interstates in the middle of downtown Dallas when at a critical moment my view of the exit signs was obstructed by trucks. But because I had studied the interchange beforehand, I was luckily able to take the correct exit ramp, despite being momentarily "blinded"!

Third and last, the smart driver is also informed on potential delays. Is there substantial road construction along the route? Is there bad weather ahead?

Perhaps the best overall approach in deciding how to tackle a large city is to locate an all-news station or two on the radio, where you can obtain frequent traffic updates. Sometimes an accident or heavy congestion on your planned route might force you to take an alternate route.

This is what I've learned from years of travel experience. I'll post a followup on the subject of Atlanta and I-285. I'd like to hear from others who have insight into the bypass vs. straight-thru issue for other cities.