Friday Firesmith – An Argument Starter

I work with traffic, and on occasion, I work in traffic. There’s nothing more contentious than putting a traffic signal at an intersection unless it’s the timing of that light. At the intersection of Saint Augustine Road and US84, aka Hill Avenue, things get plenty damn weird at a little after five. All of the businesses on the Industrial road let out at five. That’s about two miles away, so at five after five, there’s a herd of people heading towards this intersection. At ten after there is a crowd, and at eleven after five, you might as well be in a parking lot. From the time the light turns red until it turns green again, is two minutes and thirty seconds. The left turn lane, the one with the red line, has a light that stays green for only fifteen seconds. Rarely, very rarely, will cars at the end of the line be able to make it through in one cycle. This means they’re going to sit for a while.

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Here’s the issue I have. Note the side street, Hemlock. People trying to get out of that side street have to wait for a lot longer than the people in the turn lane. Now, there are usually no more than one, maybe two cars at any given time, while the turn lane looks like a Georgia road during an ice storm. Some good intention folk will stop, wave at the cars trapped on Hemlock, allowing them to merge, and the cars on Hemlock are free! Yay! That should give you a warm fuzzy feeling, right?

Meanwhile, fifteen people stacked up behind are watching the light go from green to yellow, to red, knowing they might not make it next time either. What this causes is a chain reaction of people getting to the turn lane, getting delayed, and this causes even more issues on Hemlock because there are now more cars than there would have been, had everyone just played by the rules. Does this make sense?

Okay, here’s the part that will cause the argument; this is true in nearly all cases where there’s a traffic light involved.

For every one person you help by letting them into traffic, you’re screwing over a dozen, maybe more. For that smile and a wave you’re getting, you are also generating swearing and a middle finger behind you. Of course, you can’t see this so it doesn’t matter as much, does it?

The argument against this is usually, “Well, you want people to let you in, don’t you?”

And that’s saying, “We should all do things for selfish reasons.” If it serves me or makes me feel good, then what does it matter if twenty people are inconvenienced?

That’s the argument for letting people in.

Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

15 thoughts on “Friday Firesmith – An Argument Starter”

  1. If someone decided to drive on “Hemlock Street” they have clearly decided that they’re prepared to die while waiting to make a left turn.

    Let em wait!!!

  2. It’s kind of like people slamming on their brakes to let someone merge in front of them. It makes them feel good but causes problems. It’s called merging for a reason.

  3. If there’s more than three cars in front of me on a 15 second left I know I won’t make the light anyway. The first car will probably be paying attention but the second or third will not and leave at least 4 car lengths before moving.

    If you wave for someone to pull out of the side street, the car in front of you will be long gone before they pull out, because they have to check for traffic from the left then stop in front of you before they can move to the the right to go straight through the intersection.
    It’s a lose lose no matter what.

    • Which is why you should ignore the people not already in the turn lane. Let the process work itself out. It’s like trying to help firemen put out a fire; you might mean well but chances are you’re just getting in the way.

  4. What bothers me more is what happens when a lane is closed due to road work. Since I live in St. Louis and right across the river is Illinois and each state has different rules on how to proceed. MODOT wants drivers to use the lane until it ends and then do the zipper merge at the construction site while ILDOT wants you to merge as soon as you see signs warning the lane will end ahead. A local TV station did a report on the zipper merge.

    • Jon, the ironic thing here is that zipper merging is more efficient than any other kind of merging, but it never works because people won’t let other people in. See? Now I’m arguing against my first argument. But in construction, everyone is in the same boat already. WE *should* let people in because they’ve got to come in anyway.

  5. If you slow down and let ONE car in that is only ONE additional car in the line. If that guy on Hemlock sits there for 15 minutes then blows up and forces his way in causing an accident then you are all there for an hour. Two sides to every issue but here ing ‘Merica we don’t want to look at the other side.

    • Or, wmenns, the guy on Hemlock realizes his position is untenable. He makes a right instead, makes a left or a right, at the next intersection, and takes himself out of this equation. BUT THAT WOULD BE TOO EASY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. There’s a street like this on the base at Ft. Hood Texas, I’m not sure of the street names. I know it’s quite near the O-club, and on the way out the East gate. Every day when it’s time to go home, it gets crowded just as in your scenario. The difference is, EVERY car stops and lets one person in, Just one, but it keeps the traffic running smoothly and assures that those who are trying to come into the main flow from the side street don’t get stuck sitting for an eternity. Every car, one person. It’s just a small courtesy, There is no sign commanding it, there is no light there, it’s just an unwritten rule of the base, and it’s been that way for as long as I can remember. It’s courteous, it’s efficient, and it keeps everyone smiling on the way home.

  7. The problem I have seen is the very same people who can negotiate a companies $20-million dollar contract or maybe approve a multi-million dollar development investment cannot seemingly think at the most critical time of the day.

    They only know one way home and it is not turn right, drive two / three blocks and then turn left and take another less crowded route that would be less frustrating too. No, they want to sit and get pissed because some stupid engineer who designed this doesn’t live / work around here and what the hell does he know, etc., etc., and now I have to wait for morons like myself to let me out.

    To make matters worse, I have been in a scenario like this with a couple of cars in a fender bender and you, the paramedic, are checking someone out and some idiot in a three piece suit approaches and asks you to move the ambulance cause his wife’s mad he is late getting home and they need to be to his daughters recital and now it’s all our fault for blocking the intersection with a big ambulance and a co-workers fire truck. Just for you, I’ll take a much longer evaluation and maybe even let Law Enforcement know about you and they can adjust your attitude while you wait.

    • I saw a deputy arrest someone like that one day. The man pitched a fit because we wouldn’t let him go through an accident scene. The deputy asked him to leave, then told him to leave, then whipped out the cuffs. AND had the man’s car towed. If I really don’t want to deal with the traffic I’ll go around it on I-75. That cuts out four traffic light, isn’t really that much faster, but it does keep me from sitting and watching, and it gets rid of Hemlock Gridlock. Give me about four months and I’ll be done with this job and retired.


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