November 16 - Traffic Safety Links
Here are a links to a pair of articles on traffic safety--one on running red lights; the other on pedestrian safety.
During my time on the roads today I had occasion to experience a Road Rose moment, when a driver slowed to allow me to move right on Essen Lane to reach the I-12 West on-ramp. Heading north on Jefferson Highway, I turned left out of the leftmost lane onto Essen, not realizing that there were two left turn lanes. In the narrow space and time available to do so, a gentleman in a late-model Oldsmobile saw my right turn signal and let me in. A Road Rose to you, kind sir.
Driving back from my afternoon appointment, I did an informal survey of traffic speeds on I-10 between Siegen Lane and downtown. I set my cruise control at 60 mph. Over the next eight or so miles to downtown Baton Rouge, 24 cars passed me, at least one going no less than 75 mph. I passed one truck. I hope that the speed limit enforcement that has improved safety on I-12 on the east side of town can be extended to other parts of the Interstate that pass through Baton Rouge.
November 14 Update - My wife and I walked through the same intersection (see November 12 entry below) after lunch today--crossing 5th Street at Convention St. One problem is that someone crossing the street from east to west can't see whether the traffic light is red or green. 5th Street is one way at that point, and the signal is only 3-sided. Unfortunately for the pedestrian, the blank side is the only one visible from either side of the crosswalk. I think this is especially hazardous because of all the construction in the area, which both changes traffic patterns and limits visibility for both pedestrians and motorists.
November 12 - I'm Invisible! - Today's story reminded me of a scene in the 1970-vintage movie Little Big Man in which blind Indian chief Old Lodge Skins (played brilliantly by Chief Dan George) walks unharmed through a raging battle in his village saying, "They can't see me. I'm invisible!" (The joke being, of course, that his blindness keeps his enemies from seeing him as well as him from seeing them).
Coming back from lunch yesterday we watched a man walk obliviously into a crosswalk with the light green against him and a Jeep Wrangler approaching. The Jeep slowed down to avoid hitting him. The man never looked up from his phone, seemingly unaware to what might have happened. Fortunately for him the incident took place in a construction zone, where no one can travel more than about 20 mph. Maybe he thought the road was blocked from traffic. I don't know. The story demonstrates that cell phones are dangerous in the hands of both drivers and pedestrians.
November 8: Why Didn't I Cross the Road?
The Story - Today on the way to lunch, I was waiting at the corner of 6th and Main to cross Main St. to the north (toward Serop's Express). The light was in my favor, but blocking my way was a vehicle sitting on Main St. in the crosswalk. I scowled at the driver, who apparently saw me and sheepishly began to make a "right on red" turn to get out of my way, without really looking at what was in his way on 6th St. At the same time, several female pedestrians were crossing 6th St (against the light), putting themselves directly in front of the right turner. In order to avoid hitting them, the driver pulled into the left lane on 6th St. Just then a silver car came rolling south down 6th St, blowing its horn. I stayed put. The women hustled through the 6th St crosswalk. The right turner completed his turn and veered back into the right lane. The silver car slowed and swerved a bit to avoid the car turning into his path. For a second, a collision between the two cars looked likely, but was narrowly avoided. All this happened because the first vehicle didn't stay out of the crosswalk, and then, embarrassed by his error, tried to correct it without paying attention to the rest of what was going on.
The women helped create the situation by crossing 6th St against the light, but in their admittedly weak defense, it sometimes seems safer to cross against a light with nothing coming, then to wait to cross with the light and risk being hit by an anxious driver turning either left or right. Left turners especially seem to delight in threatening pedestrians in the crosswalk. Drivers don't want to get caught in the intersection when the light turns, and they can't conceive waiting through an entire light cycle just to ensure the safety of pedestrians. Or they're talking on a cell phone while making the turn, and not really thinking about any of this. Motorists turning right with a green light may not even slow down much.
Lessons for Pedestrians - Trust no one sitting behind the wheel of a vehicle when you're crossing a street. Continue to scan in all directions as you cross. Make eye contact with as many motorists as possible to hold them in their places. Hold your hand up in the "stop" position to improve your chances. Increasing development of the downtown Baton Rouge area means more motorists, more pedestrians, and more opportunities for tragic accidents. You may be the righteous party in a vehicle/pedestrian collision, but that won't make you any less injured or dead. Protect yourself from becoming a victim.
Lessons for Motorists - Don't "atone" for a mistake by making another more dangerous one. Watch for oncoming traffic, both vehicular and on foot, when making any lane change or directional change, regardless of what the light says. Traffic lights only indicate what motorists and pedestrians are supposed to do--not what they might do when they're distracted by friends, cell phones, the radio, or whatever else has been going on that day. You'll "win" any collision with a pedestrian, but you won't feel good about it, no matter how right you were and how wrong the pedestrian was in his or her actions.
November 5 - Running the Gauntlet - I can't believe it's been more than two months since I posted a Road Rouge story. Drivers in Baton Rouge have been reasonably well-behaved--just the typical streams of cars running red lights while making left turns. Today's story comes from that family. It happened a few days ago, at the intersection of Sherwood Forest Blvd. and the I-12 West on-ramp. In any event, cars turning left with the green light from Sherwood Forecast northbound onto the I-12 on-ramp had already started through the intersection--one had already made it through--when a southbound vehicle on Sherwood Forest decided that he would "run the gauntlet" through the steady stream of cars, against his own red light. He made it without incident, but I was impressed with his nerve.
A few weeks ago we saw an similarly embarrassing move, again without incident. A young woman trying to turn left from Government Street onto Acadian Thruway managed to cross the oncoming lane into the right turn lane from Acadian onto Government. Fortunately no one wanted to make that turn and she was able to worm sheepishly (how's that for a mixed metaphor) out of her embarrasing manuever.
Oh yeah, I'm still waiting for the State Police to send accident statistics for the I-10/Picardy Ave. area. Deputy Brown acknowledged my request and said that it was in the queue for response.
August 27 - Downtown Drafting - Today's Road Rouge story comes from downtown. Heading east on Main Street, I stopped for a red light at 9th St. To the left of me a large open dump truck roared through the entire intersection while the light shone red. OK, I've seen that, I thought, not too greatly surprised. I was surprised, as were the motorists waiting to proceed south on 9th St, when a small brown sedan "drafted" the dump truck and shot through the intersection behind it, clearly after the light in the other direction had already turned green. Several other drivers and I honked at the two fools as they turned left and headed up the I-110 N on-ramp. It's a good thing that the 9th St. drivers were either observing the 3-second rule, or just slow on the gas when their light changed to green, otherwise an ugly wreck would have occurred and I would have had to stay on the scene as an eyewitness.
August 26: U-Turn Signs Mix Messages for Motorists
On the way to church this morning I stopped at the intersection of Airline Highway and Goodwood Boulevard heading north and waited to turn left onto Goodwood. An interesting (and I think new) sign caught my attention. It instructed "U-Turn Yield to Right Turn". Good advice for those making a U-turn. Two signs and one traffic light to the right appeared another sign, this one with the universal signal for "No U-Turn", the upside-down U-shaped arrow with the red circle around it and red slash across it. Look back at the photo and see for yourself.
Here are my possible explanations.
1) There are two sign crews--putter-uppers and taker-downers. The putter-uppers have done their work, installing the new "U-Turn Yield to Right Turn" sign. The taker-downers will someday remove the conflicting "No U-Turn" sign.
2) Police are setting up to write two tickets to a U-turner who hits someone turning right off Goodwood.
3) The signs reflect the real attitude of the highway designers and the police. We'd prefer that you don't make any U-turns here, but if you have to, please wait until there's no one turning right.
4) No one has any idea what's going on, including me, given that this sign may have been in place for ten years before I noticed it.
August 26: Aussie Pinkie Campaign Shames Speeders - Here's a picture and a link to a fun article from the Chicago Tribune about Australia's "pinkie" campaign to slow down speeders. Do you think this would have any impact in Baton Rouge on what I call the NASCAR set--those who treat traffic like a NASCAR race to be won one car length at a time?
"After failing to scare young men into driving more slowly, Australian authorities have hit on a new tactic: questioning their virility. A witty advertising campaign features passengers and passersby waving their pinkie fingers -- a gesture suggesting a certain lack of physical endowment -- at show-off male drivers."
August 25: The following Letter to the Editor appeared in The Advocate this morning. I'm not the only one concerned about the safety of motorists on the off-ramp and service road at I-10 and Picardy. It's encouraging that a highway designer shares my concerns. I hope the author doesn't mind me copying it here. I will try to contact him about our mutual interest in this problem.
August 26 Update: I talked to Mr. Truxillo by phone today. As a consulting engineer, he has some contacts at DOTD that he will talk to about the problem. He faces the problems at I-10 between Bluebonnet and Siegen every morning and afternoon at rush hour. He describes motorists who use the frontage road to gain ground on stalled traffic--flying up to 70 mph to bypass 50 cars in line. He did not agree with Chief Engineer William Temple's conclusion that enforcement is the problem rather than poor design. He's seen wrecks, abrupt moves, and plenty of skid marks to demonstrate that we're talking about when, not if, someone will get killed in this area in an accident with poor highway design as the root cause.
I will see if the State Police have any statistics on the number of wrecks that have occured since Picardy Ave. interchange opened.
August 27 Update - I talked to Mr. Truxillo by phone and have exchanged e-mails. He found some highway design information that supports our case. He also said that enforcement was unlikely to be helpful because of the ambiguity of the meaning of "Yield" sign. He will continue to pursue the issue as he has time.
I sent an e-mail to the public information officer for Louisiana State Police Captain Bryan Wynne asking for accident statistics for the are on I-10 and the frontage roads between Bluebonnet and Siegen (which includes the new Picardy Ave. exit).
Published: Aug 25, 2007
Do motorists in the area know the meaning of a yield sign? I think not.
There are several locations around town where this is apparent. One is at the Interstate 12/Airline Highway interchange and the other is at the Interstate 10 off-ramps between Bluebonnet Boulevard and Siegen Lane.
At the I-10 off-ramps to the frontage roads running parallel to the interstate between Bluebonnet and Siegen, the frontage road traffic should yield to the off-ramps.
The frontage road advance signs read, “Yield to Ramp Traffic,” both lanes of the frontage road are marked with yield signs and emblems on the pavement, and there are two overhead yield signs where the frontage roads intersect the ramps.
Both lanes of the frontage road should yield to ramp traffic, but rarely or barely do. The intersection angles are quite bad; there have been quite a few accidents and near accidents at these locations.
A possible solution might be to replace the yield signs with stop signs. A stop sign should get most of us around here to at least yield to the motorist with the right of way.
civil designer, highways
Here's the link to the letter of the The Advocate's website.
July 30: Be Safe! Turn Right! was distributed with my byline today by e-mail to all of my company's work groups at the Baton Rouge Tower as the weekly safety reminder.
July 26: My roadway safety kick now extends to work where I'm alerting people to a hazard as they leave the building's parking garage.
Here's my message and a link to a map of the issue.
Be Safe! Turn Right! (Safety Tip for North Tower Contract Parkers)
Employees parking in the North Tower garage encounter a safety hazard almost every day as they leave work. When exiting the garage by turning left onto 4th Street, their view to the left is obstructed by either the Iron Mountain truck, various construction vehicles and pieces of equipment, or both that are parked in what used to be parking spaces along the northbound right-hand side of 4th Street. By turning left to proceed south on 4th Street or to then turn onto Florida Street, they have to nose out past the obstructing vehicles and hope that nothing is coming either through the Florida/4th intersection southbound, or turning right from Florida onto 4th. If they guess right, they can proceed southbound on 4th Street and to their ultimate destination. If they guess wrong, they either get hit broadside or an oncoming car has to slam on the brakes to avoid a collision.
The City-Parish has declined to prohibit left turns coming out of the garage, or to prohibit vehicles from parking in the view-obstructing area. Therefore it's up to us drivers to protect our safety. The safest way to exit the North Tower garage is to always turn right onto 4th Street, no matter where you're heading. If you want to reach I-110, you can turn right on Main St. and proceed to its I-110 on-ramp, which is further from the 1-10E/I-10W split, giving you more time to merge left if you want to go on I-10E, an additional safety benefit. Even those wanting to go south on 4th Street aren't too badly inconvenienced. They can turn right on Main, right on 6th, right on North Blvd. and left on 4th St--several turns to be sure, but less inconvenient than recovering from a broadside collision. You may add from a few seconds to a few minutes to your trip home, but you and your family can be more sure that you'll arrive home safely. Be Safe! Turn Right!
Here's a link to a picture to better illustrate the problem and suggested safeguard.
July 22: Baton Rouge Driving Rules This is a fun post from an observant 19-year old in Baton Rouge.
Please respond to the poll at the right about the I-10 S Exit at Picardy Ave. in Baton Rouge. Thanks!
July 14: My campaign to improve safety at the I-10 Picardy Ave. exit hasn't yet lit any fires. As mentioned before, I got a personal letter from State Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Johnny Bradbury thanking me for my feedback and telling me that my concern had been forwarded to Chief Engineer William Temple. Today, I got a curt response from Mr. Temple, telling me my letter was an enforcement concern rather than a design concern and as such had been forwarded to Captain Bryan Wynne of the State Police. I will follow up with Captain Wynne to learn how his agency is enforcing the yield signs along the I-10 service road between Bluebonnet and Picardy.
July 10: Bad news (without an unhappy ending) and good news today. Starting with the "bad news" driving story, on the way downtown to lunch today, I was ready to turn right from S. Harrell's Ferry Road onto northbound S. Sherwood Forest Blvd so as to enter I-12 from a few yards down the road. The previous light cycle ended with a white car running the red light, and then stopping underneath the traffic signal, thereby blocking the intersection (at least the leftmost lane, where I wanted to be). I guess he thought he would minimize his sin by stopping rather than continuing through the light. I honked and waved a couple of times and then gave up and turned right into the right lane and went around him. Others behind me turned into his lane and further blocked the intersection. Even though I was 100 yards ahead at the next light, I waved some more, hoping he'd see me and move forward to make room for the other drivers. He steadfastly waited for the light to turn green, at which time everyone got well through the intersection before the next wave of S. Sherwood Forest came through. The best scenario I can imagine for him is that he was new to town and not aware that the signal he was sitting under was controlling the intersection that he was sitting in. At least no one got hurt.
My good news is that Baton Rouge's city leaders continue to work on the accident/injury/fatality infested section of I-12 near our house. The speed limit has been reduced from 70 mph to 60 mph all the way to Walker, LA, which is about 5 miles down the road. The speed limit used to change from 60 to 70 as soon as you left East Baton Rouge Parish. They've also posted a number of portable electronic signs along the highway warning drivers to be "Prepare to Stop. Traffic May Slow." I hope this helps. Statistics show that police officers are writing many more tickets recently, which should also help.
July 1: Great Moments in U-Turns - It's been a few days since I've been able to post a good Road Rouge story, but patience pays off as we saw an entertaining U-turn from the wrong lane against a red light this afternoon.
We were in the leftmost left turn lane waiting for the left turn signal to enter the westbound I-12 on-ramp at Sherwood Forest Blvd. A car stopped next to us in the right-hand left turn lane and proceeded to execute a U-turn in front of us while the left was red. The only positive mark I could give him was for not talking on a cell phone during the manuever. We theorized that he moved into the left turn lane thinking he wanted to go on I-12, but then thought of something he needed to do back home. Rather than entering I-12 and going to Airline Highway to turn around (a 5-minute round trip, at least), or waiting in place for our lane to clear and risking the car behind blowing its horn, or having to sit through another light cycle, he decided to take advantage of our law-abiding nature and the lack of cross-traffic to make his creative U-turn. I think there's a barricade that prevented him from proceeding on Sherwood Forest a few yards and then making a more traditional U-turn.
Sometimes I'm not that observant of no U-turn signs, particularly if I really need to make one and there's nothing coming, but I've never tried this particular move. You should avoid it too.
June 28 Part 2: My post of last night was very timely as The Advocate, Baton Rouge's daily newspaper, ran a story this morning about a meeting on I-12 safety headed by the Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden. The short-term upshot is addition of highway police patrols along the dangerous stretch of highway, which has experienced almost 2,000 wrecks causing 567 injuries and at least 10 deaths over the last five years. Here's a link to the article:
June 28: Fatal Accidents Plague Baton Rouge Interstates - Baton Rouge drivers have been behaving themselves in my sight lately, and I've been off the roads for a few days as a surgery patient. Still a couple of road-related topics have come to my attention. Sadly, the first involves a couple of fatal accidents that have taken place on I-12 in Baton Rouge within a few miles of my house. In the first accident, some large pipes (sewer pipe size) came loose from the back of a tractor trailer, one of which crushed a vehicle and killed its driver, a pregnant woman. We've talked a bit around the house about how such accidents could be prevented. A lot of large trucks travel with open loads, secured by straps and chains. In this case, it seems like large pipes could be carried in a closed container that could provide some protection for other vehicles when one of the pipes came loose. I read that a similar accident happened along I-12 in Baton Rouge several years ago.
The second accident, also on I-12 East, involved three 18-wheelers (and some other vehicles, I think) and resulted in three fatalities. I haven't seen an analysis of the accident, but a problem in the area of the wreck is the narrowing of the highway from three lanes to two. Particularly in late afternoon (although this wreck took place at about 10 p.m.), traffic backs up as commuters head home. The area to the east of Baton Rouge has a growing population, many of which work in Baton Rouge. Too many cars are forced to merge into too few lanes and on many days traffic flow stops. A vehicle that's not aware of this situation and not paying attention can easily be going 65 mph and find cars in front of him going 10 mph or less just feet in front of him. Personally, I think everyone's in far too big a hurry during rush hour. If traffic thins just a bit, cars are once again going 70 mph, even though the next slow down may be only a quarter mile ahead. Long haul truckers get paid by the mile and seem determined to travel 70 mph for every possible mile, even though they would add only 3 minutes to their trip by going 50 instead of 70 across the 20 or so miles that pass through Baton Rouge. Because there's no bypass, Baton Rouge has some of the worst rush hour traffic around, as commuters and through traffic share the road for 2+ hours in the morning and 3+ hours in the evening.
Driving along the two-lane road that parallels this stretch of I-12, as I do most days, is a dicey experience. More than one large vehicle has left the interstate on the right hand side, driven through the chain link fence and into the two-lane road. A friend of mine was hit by such a vehicle. Her SUV was totalled, but miraculously, she was unhurt. You can count the number of times someone has gone through the fence by counting the lengths of new fencing.
Some of Louisiana's legislators have been paying attention and have asked the DOTD for a study of this stretch of I-12, which has yielded 11 fatalities in the last five years. I look forward to seeing the results of the study, and to whatever improvements might be made to make this dangerous stretch of highway safer. In the meantime, everybody please slow down and pay attention.
10 Commandments of Driving
My second topic is the recently issued "10 Commandments of Driving", offered by that noted source of highway safety information, the Vatican in Rome. One can opine as to whether highway safety is the best use of the Holy See's resources, but the ideas offered are sound, albeit a little high-minded, given that they don't address such directly hazardous activities as speeding and tailgating. I'm not sure if God was a point system for violators, or what the consequences of non-compliance are, other than increased risk of tickets, accidents and injuries or worse. Without further liturgy, here they are:
The "Drivers' Ten Commandments"
1. You shall not kill.
2. The road shall be for you a means of communion between people and not of mortal harm.
3. Courtesy, uprightness and prudence will help you deal with unforeseen events.
4. Be charitable and help your neighbor in need, especially victims of accidents.
5. Cars shall not be for you an expression of power and domination, and an occasion of sin.
6. Charitably convince the young and not so young not to drive when they are not in a fitting condition to do so.
7. Support the families of accident victims.
8. Bring guilty motorists and their victims together, at the appropriate time, so that they can undergo the liberating experience of forgiveness.
9. On the road, protect the more vulnerable party.
10. Feel responsible toward others.
Here's a link with more of the story:
Maybe as part of this effort I'll come up with a more secular version of my own.
June 14: On the way to work (whoops, I mean the doctor's office) this morning, we were waiting on Sherwood Forest to turn left onto I-12 West. Traffic was heavy in the other direction, and the car in the opposite left lane stopped to avoid being stuck in the intersection. At this point, the driver behind the stopped car darted out into the right lane and moved into the intersection, only to be stuck with no place to go, as traffic on that side was backed up as well. Fortunately for us, traffic moved along enough for the woman to clear the intersection so we could turn left when we got the green arrow. I guess she just couldn't handle waiting through another light cycle.
Picardy Ave. Exit Update: I got a letter today from the Secretary of DOTD saying that my concern had been forwarded to their Chief Engineer and that I would be hearing from him. The letter appeared to be authentically signed by the Secretary and it arrived in my home mailbox only two days after I sent my fax. Very encouraging. Stay tuned.
June 11: Today I offer a "Road Rose" to the unidentified Louisiana State Trooper who slowed down and flashed his lights to allow me to merge into I-12 East at Airline Highway on Sunday afternoon. Without such help my options were to drive on the shoulder or to proceed straight from the on ramp to the off ramp to try again.
June 10: Dangerous Road Design - Today I want to highlight a dangerous road design here in Baton Rouge in the hope that greater awareness, or perhaps even a redesign can prevent a costly or even deadly crash.
My concern is with the new Picardy Avenue interchange on I-10 South. One of the primary objectives of this interchange is to move travelers from I-10 into the Mall of Louisiana without having them drive on Bluebonnet Blvd.
However, when you exit I-10 South at Picardy, you have almost no time to cross two lanes of traffic coming from behind you on the southbound frontage road before you reach the Picardy Ave. turnoff on the other side.
The drivers on the frontage road are warned with many "Yield" signs, but in my experience with Baton Rouge drivers, it is very counterintuitive for those going straight ahead to yield to those merging into or across a given street.
When I've tried to make the move across to Picardy, I've found it hard to take it on faith that those motorists speeding into my side view mirror and are going to slow down to allow me across. One time, I continued on down the frontage road to Siegen and took the northbound frontage road back to Picardy. The next time I exited I-10 South at Bluebonnet and wound my way around the Mall to get to the new Rave Theater to pick up my daughter there.
Having driven a lot in Texas, I'm familiar with the value of frontage roads, but I haven't seen one there where a driver exiting the interstate is confronted with such an immediate need to cross traffic to get where he or she wants to go.
I'm very afraid that there's going to be a high-speed collision at this site before something is done to improve its safety. Please be very careful if you find yourself traveling south on the frontage road from Bluebonnet Blvd. to Siegen Lane or if you are exiting I-10 at Picardy Ave. and trying to get to the Mall.
June 12 Update: I faxed this concern today to the Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development. When (and if) I get a response, I'll post a summary here.
June 9: Imaginative and Dangerous Driving - Today we saw two examples of Road Rouge, my term for the imaginative and often dangerous driving I see here almost every day in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Both were associated with interstate ramps. Interstates I-10, I-12 and I-110 run through the middle our fair city, so it's fitting that the first examples come from this critical driving environment.
First on an I-12 on-ramp, a red sedan executed an unexpected pass, using the unoccupied (barely) second lane to execute the pass. We were far enough behind in line to just enjoy the move without having to deal with it. I'm not sure what motivated the driver to make such a move to advance one space in the line of cars entering I-12 at that point. Maybe he or she just bought the car and was looking for chances to check out the excellent handling promised by the salesperson.
On the same trip (actually less than a mile down I-12 at the next exit), another vehicle decided about one-third of the way down the off-ramp that he or she still needed to be on I-12, darted to the left, cross all those diagonally-striped lines and made his or her way back into traffic. Fortunately, traffic on a Saturday afternoon was pretty light, so the move put neither the driver nor other travelers in jeopardy. We were the next vehicle in line at the exit, well behind, but within range had the driver been sideswiped while trying to reenter interstate traffic. Surely the daring driver felt satisfied, knowing he or she had saved the two or three minutes it would have taken to complete the unintended exit, drive on to the next on-ramp and continue safely on his or her trip.
Your examples of Road Rouge (or whatever you call it in your hometown) are welcome. Please leave them as comments on this post.