I live near a failing traffic intersection. This junction is graced by an old-school light with no green turn arrow and a miniscule time-delay between red and green. The intersection connects two main thoroughfares. The role of these roads has changed over time, given all the construction and resulting traffic that has sprung up recently. Yet, the nearby traffic signal remains firmly locked in the past. The light belongs in a Green Acres-type town with a population of twenty, not in a large city.
This intersection is the epitome of left turn hell. Your only chance of turning at rush hour involves three steps:
You sit watching cars stream past on your left while the light remains green. There is no gap in traffic, no chance of turning.
The signal changes to yellow. You stiffen with a mixture of dread and anticipation, doubting the wisdom of your next move. You can’t afford to wait and miss your turn because the same thing will just happen again next time. But you can’t turn either, given the propensity for oncoming cars to run red lights. You balk. The guy behind you honks.
The light turns red. You check the intersection for people doing exactly what you’re about to do. You hammer the gas, whip through the intersection, and hope a cop wasn’t watching.
Some community group is doing “intersection beautification” next to this crossroads. They’ve planted trees, put in an adobe wall, and lined the sidewalk with small shrubs. Behind the reddish adobe wall rests a set of benches. The project is pretty and I fully support it. But I’m not fooled. The barricaded benches are a dead giveaway. These people are building a site for observing the scary, ridiculous events that occur at the intersection. It’s a great place to catch an accident, the automotive equivalent of a spot for whale watching. It’ll be a perfect place for ambulance-chasing lawyers to have lunch.
I roll up to my neighborhood death intersection in the fading light of rush hour, wondering what treat I’m in for tonight. This is usually the best time for a show, with people urgently trying to get home. Stuck at the red, with no intention of turning, I watch as an older man in a Bonneville starts creeping into the intersection, preparing to turn left. Don’t do it buddy. He makes a pair of false starts and ends up with the front half of his car in the middle of the intersection. The light turns green for me, but I just sit and wait. I don’t honk, fully understanding the man’s plight. I look at his face. His eyebrows are raised in an expression of pure fear. He starts whipping his head back and forth, checking the intersection for cars. With one last glance, he hammers the gas and shoots through the intersection, passing within inches of another car’s bumper.
He’ll never turn left here again during rush hour. Guaranteed.