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How The World Wags

By Dave Kiffer


November 27, 2004

Ketchikan, Alaska - "Ave (Hail) Automobius, God of Traffic and Parking."

I often find myself muttering that tribute whenever I safely pull into traffic. Usually it means that some unseen hand has parted the Red Sea and allowed me to finally enter the flow after a lengthy wait. In the old days, drivers used to occasionally allow someone else to enter the traffic stream but today we are in a such a big hurry that such archaic manners have been left behind at the last light.

jpg Dave Kiffer

In light of the recent discussions on Sitnews regarding driving too fast or two slow in Salmon City, it's a good time to think about the things we confront on the roads here (and to give a little seasonal thanks for the fact that - unlike Neil Gray - we don't live in places where the road problems are really serious).

I'm not a speed demon, but I have to admit that whenever I am late (a frequent occurrence) I find myself driving behind someone who believes it's okay to toodle down Tongass about 16.5 mph. (You've all seen the commercial where the two senior citizens are charging down the road in a Cadillac going about 5 mph and the husband accuses the wife of going like a "bat out of Hades"? I think it was filmed on Stedman Street).When a car is moving slower than Continental Drift, I get irritated and dash up some side street in a vain attempt to get ahead of the slowpoke. It never works.

That leaves me to wonder how it is that I can always be in a hurry, because as we all know there is no where to go around here. We can go south about 11 miles, we can north about 18 miles. We can go inland about 10 miles. That's it - unless you have one of those amphibious ducky-doodads. I once owned a Volkswagen, but I was never that interested in following up on the company claims that it could actually float.

It recently occurred to me that the fact that we can't go anywhere is the direct cause of a lot of us being in a big hurry on the roads. We don't plan ahead correctly because we never take our short journeys into account.

Years ago, I lived in one of the large valleys outside of Los Angeles. I had a girlfriend living in one of the other valleys. It was a two hour drive depending on traffic, so I always planned on a couple of hours travel time and built that into my schedule. But in Ketchikan, we never adjust for travel time because we never think it's going to take more than a couple minutes to get anywhere on the island. Besides, if we're late it doesn't matter because it's okay to be late in Ketchikan. Everything starts late in Ketchikan (but that's another column).

So if we have to be at a meeting in the West End at 3 pm, we jump into our car Downtown at 2:58 pm. Then we run into a slow person crossing the street, a truck blocking traffic to make a delivery, and a 10-car line up because some cretin is waiting to turn left across traffic. Then realize that we are going to be late so we start tail-gaiting the poor person ahead of us who is actually driving at 25 mph. When we get to a wider spot in the road, we then pass, and - as was noted in the letters to the editor - we arrive at our destination about three car lengths ahead of the person who was doing the speed-limit. It doesn't matter. We are still 10 minutes late, but since this is Ketchikan, the person we are to meet with hasn't arrived yet either.

Speaking about turning left across of Dante's Circles of Hell should be reserved for folks who do that on a regular basis. Especially in Ketchikan, where there is rarely room to go around the idiot as he waits for a opening to turn. it usually would be just as quick - if not quicker - to toodle on down to one of the four stop lights and go left or even turn right three times and ease back out in to traffic that way. Instead, people tend to stop right where they are to turn then create a big traffic jam waiting for someone going the other direction to have a sudden pang of conscience and stop to let them cross over. From experience, I can say those "pangs of conscience" happen about once a month, if you're lucky.

Another traffic irritation is the driver who doesn't think ahead about how to traverse Ketchikan without dipping quickly onto Tongass and further clogging the clogged artery. You've all seen those folks who quickly dash out into traffic and then immediately veer off to their destination on another street. Nine times out of ten, they entered from a street or parking lot from which they could have egressed more easily to their destination. Just because you can score 21 out of 25 on a driver's test (Just what does "green" paint on a curb designate? Which way do you turn your wheels when parking facing uphill?) doesn't mean you are an intelligent driver.

Of course, not every "challenge" on our roads can be blamed on unthinking drivers. Sometimes we have thoughtless traffic engineers to thank. For example, why isn't there a left turn arrow on Tongass at the intersection with Jefferson. That's one of the busiest intersections in town. There is a left turn on the nearby intersection of Tongass and Washington, which only has about 10 percent of the traffic. Go figure. Why is there even a light at that intersection, when 80 percent of the people turning into the mall are cued up farther down the road at the old access point at the foot of Adams Street? They are - of course - waiting to turn left across traffic, but I digress.

So if you are turning left off Tongass onto either upper or lower Jefferson, you have to edge out into the intersection and wait until the light turns red and the flow stops from the other direction. At that point, you are blocking the people who now have the green light, but that's the breaks! Unfortunately, the car behind you must now wait about five minutes for the lights to change so he or she can repeat the same "rude" action you just did.

You can only hope they're not late for a meeting!

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Dave Kiffer ©2004

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