Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Re-evaluating the Left

            A left turn has come to be a euphemism for an unexpected action.  I have been intrigued about left turns ever since I saw Zoolander and he could make left turns, because he wasn’t an ambi-turner.  Which makes him the exact opposite of NASCAR drivers, I guess.
            And maybe that’s why not many of them come from Michigan, the state left turns forgot.  The first time I drove in the state, I learned about something called the Michigan Left.  Apparently keeping their state connected wasn’t the only thing the Michiganites (Michiganers? Michiganians?) are afraid of.  In order to make a left turn on a highway, one is required to drive about a city block past the light in the left hand lane, then, when it’s safe.  Do a U-turn, come back to the same stoplight and turn right.  I suppose it saves on left turn signals, but Really? How aren’t U-turns at least as dangerous? Maybe they just want you to see more of their state.
            I’ve found that the city of St. Paul has come upon an interesting mechanism for speeding up traffic flow, while taking advantage of left turns.  As much as it pains me to compliment St. Paul in any way, I have to give them props for this one.  As the son of a Program Manager in the Office of Policy Analysis, Research & Innovation at Mn/DOT, I am well-versed in how important traffic flow is for the growth of an urban area.  But this idea is so simple and so smart, I am going to call it the St. Paul Right.  Simply understood: As it stands, people turning right must stop completely at a red light before turning.  But oftentimes there are several cars coming from your right, turning left. Often because they have a green arrow.  This being the case, you shouldn’t have to stop.  Therefore, St. Paul has installed green right arrows for when the left arrows are on going the other way.  Genius! The road essentially becomes just a bend and it gets more people through the intersection quickly.
            You know what else keeps traffic flow going?  Round-abouts.  All you St. Paul people, don’t tell me that, “Oh they’re scary!” “Oh I don’t understand them.”  They’re very simple.  You yield to the people already in the roundabout, then you enter and continue in a counter-clockwise motion until you exit on the road you entered.  You can even end up going back the way you came if you want to.  But you’re going to have to learn them eventually.  Richfield just installed two-lane roundabouts along 66th Street, a very prominent byway.  They’re practically Minneapolis!  But St. Paul has never been about things that make sense and eliminate congestion.  Except maybe chili.  That’s why they’re saying that the Central Corridor light rail (the Uni-Line, as I plan on calling it, regardless) is not going to have pre-emption at stoplights anywhere down University in St. Paul.  It’s going to take 45 minutes to get from downtown to downtown! Give pre-emption, build some round-abouts and give your streets some rhyme or reason. Hate to say it, but Jesse V had it right about you guys.
            If you still don’t get round-abouts, look them up on the back of any new state map.  I just recently used a roundabout to avoid having to turn left off Hiawatha Avenue.  It was awesome.  Nonetheless, turning left has gotten much easier to do, since our main form of transportation gradually changed from boats to cars.  Trains were somewhere in there, but as far as I know, they didn’t have to worry about turning left.  Now we call turning left Hanging a Louie.  But with boats, big sailing ships, that is, even the language implies that it must have been a more tricky maneuver.  Hard-a-Port! the captain would call out.  Then he would have to turn the rudder, and six-to-ten man crew would have to swing the sails in the appropriate manner as to turn the three ton ship toward the port side.  Although even “port” is a relatively recent term.  That direction used to be called Larboard- rhyming with Starboard, which is the right side of the ship. (And the front is called Fore and the back is called Aft.  You’re welcome.)  But imagine a captain trying to yell out one of those over the roar of a storm.  What could you do but change the terminology?

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