The Ohio Department of Transportation recently activated new traffic lights at U.S. Route 62 and Paris Avenue. The stoplights replaced the flashing warning lights that for many years warned those who were paying attention to the road rather than texting, playing with car stereos or reading business reports with yellow (meaning caution, slow down) for U.S. Route 62 drivers and red (meaning stop) for Paris Avenue drivers.
I noticed one day that the new lights include rectangular frameworks around them, colored yellow like the body of the lights with black stripes. A few days later I saw the same type of light somewhere else. Is this the new style of stoplight? Will these lights replace those without frames? Are the frames meant to increase visibility? If they are, this must be one of several programs designed to catch the attention of drivers who don’t believe driving requires their full attention.
Another program is the changing of metal signs. People who drive at night may have noticed the increase in reflectivity of signs, a change mandated by the federal government. Townships that operate on limited funds have no choice but to replace perfectly good signs that are easily visible to anyone paying attention with the new highly reflective signs. They have an extended deadline and mustn’t rush right out and replace them all, but the replacement program is difficult when road funds leave little elbow room. Nimishillen Township Road Superintendent Jack Magee told me recently that he plugs away at the replacement program a little at a time as he has the funds.
How much do we spend on all these extra doodads and googaws? I remember, in the early 1980s perhaps, when stoplights were replaced. It used to be, and if you remember it this says something about your age, that an intersection had one stoplight with four sides, three lights to a side with possibly a fourth light at the bottom for left-turn signals. Intersections were less cluttered and looked nicer without the regiments of poles, wires and lights that now guard intersections against drivers who increasingly pay less and less attention to the deadly serious job of driving.
For this reason, among others, I’ve known for decades that people pay too little attention to driving. I thought that one light sufficed, that if drivers paid proper attention, they would see one light. But apparently most drivers paid more attention to anything but driving, because all intersections in the early 1980s or so became cluttered with legions of stoplights. That confused me at first because back then the only time you saw a second light at an intersection was when a left-turn light hung over a left-turn lane, so when lights were added over turn lanes I wondered why a left-turn signal wasn’t coming on until I realized the lights were part of the plethora of beacons addressing drivers who had more important things to do than pay attention to the road. Now intersections usually have at least eight light fixtures, two three-packs for each direction, sometimes a third for each direction for left-turn lanes or for places where engineers must have decided two per direction was too few.
In many places lights also give advance notice. Mount Pleasant Street eastbound approaching Market Avenue has an extra set of flashers west of the small hill before Market so the high-speed drivers who happily ignore those funny signs that say “Speed Limit 40” have advance warning that they must stop ahead. Those lights would put Rudolph to shame, and I bet the residents along Mount Pleasant hate them.
So the new highly reflective signs that Magee, Ron Frank from Washington Township, and Dennis Porter from Lexington Township are ordered to install are just another step in trying to outmaneuver increasingly careless drivers at a time when roads are increasingly more congested and vigilance is more important than ever. I’ve always felt you shouldn’t cater to the stupid and careless by spending more money to take care of them or guard against them, but no one asked me.
If anyone knows about those new rectangular traffic lights, let me know. But call or write from a desk, not your car.
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