Spare the cones, lose control of traffic
Sun photo/Michael Dresser
Drivers invade the closed left lanes of Light Street as road discipline breaks down.
The closing of two lanes of Light Street during this morning's peak travel hours didn't turn into the traffic nightmare some had feared. Traffic actually moved rather briskly through the Pratt Street intersection where northbound Light morphs into Calvert.
Nevertheless, an observer on the scene this morning could witness an interesting case study of driver behavior, or misbehavior, in the long block between Conway and Pratt.
It seemed as if the contractor on the project, P. Flanigan & Sons, ran a little short of orange cones between those two streets. (Funny, there seemed to be plenty in the next block.)
Anyway, some of the cones were spaced at fairly wide intervals -- maybe 30 yards in one case. The cones weren't so scarce that an observant driver couldn't tell the lane was closed, but there were plenty of drivers who didn't get the message. As soon a traffic backed up just a little, you could count on some free spirit to steer around the cones and use the supposedly closed lanes to jump ahead.
Sun Photo/Michael Dresser
A driver who plowed over a cone on Light Street puts it back where it belongs.
The unscheduled expansion of the travel lanes didn't help traffic flow much, because most drivers felt compelled to merge back into two lanes once they crossed Pratt. And with many of those merger attempts came near-collisions, so at times the traffic seemed on the verge of chaos.
Just as traffic anarchy was looming, a city worker in a fluoresecent vest arrived at the scene and took charge. He waded into traffic and wavved errant drvers back to their proper lanes, set up kknocked-over cones and helped on unfortunate motorist who plowed into a conex extract it from under his car.
"As soon as one person goes arounhd the cones, it's like they all follow," the worker said, He added that the spacing did not seem to folllow the guidelines in the manual the governs such closures, and got on his cell phone to relay that concern to the contractor.
The contractor appeared in no hurry to correct the problem, which continued even after the city worker improved the spacing. Of course, even wihere the cones were perfectly conspicuous, there were folks who ran into them. One such person got out of his car, looked around indignantly, asked a witness if he had placed it there but then dutifully pulled it from under his Honda and returned it to its proper place.
The man from the city agreed that drivers might have been confused because there were no workers or equipment visible in the closed-off lanes. But he said there was some concrete work about to start in the next block and that the traffic folks wanted to get drivers into two lanes before that point.
"Sometimes it's not as obvious, but there is a reason for all this," he said.
Despite all the fun, traffic flowed reasonably smoothly through the peak of rush hour. It didn't look much different from an ordinary morning's traffic -- perhaps because it's a popular vacation week.
The closings on Light Street are expected to continue for the next two weeks as part of the street work being done to prepare for next year's Grand Prix race downtown. One can only hope that the contractor can spare a few more cones while the project continues. One about every 10 yards -- kind of like first-down markers -- seems about right.