Wednesday, December 29, 2010

ITD’s on the wrong track

The two most recent suggestions by the Idaho Transportation Department for relieving the dangerous situation at the Timmerman blinking light remind me of the old joke about the ranchers and the tree-huggers discussing the issue of coyote predation on the sheep herds in the mountains. One animal-rights guy stood up at a meeting and said that perhaps the coyotes could be neutered and thereby solve the problem. This was followed by a rancher who stood up and said, "The coyotes are killing and eating the sheep, not having sex with them," (or words to that effect). The tragic accidents at Timmerman are caused not by the speed of the cars on Highway 75, but by the lack of understanding by the east-west drivers on Highway 20 that the cross traffic does not stop (obviously, for why would anyone knowingly pull out onto Highway 75 with traffic bearing down on them at any speed?).

Why would the ITD try to control the speed of the innocent north-south traffic when those who usually cause the wrecks are the people who are bored, distracted or otherwise misinformed about what they should do to yield the right-of-way to those do not have to stop at that intersection? There is only one tiny sign that indicates that the "cross traffic does not stop," and it's beneath the third or fourth (and final) huge stop sign. My inclination when getting to that last stop sign would be to check out the north-south traffic, not to be reading yet another sign telling me to stop, with or without its added warning to yield the right-of-way. The fatality rate at this intersection just might support that view.

My guess is that the problem lies with the fact that there is too much information of the wrong kind (repeated warnings to stop ahead) and not enough information regarding the need to stop and yield to highway-speed traffic. How about something as simple as a 4-by-8-foot plywood sign saying, "Dangerous intersection: Cross traffic does not stop." Two of them could be in place by New Year's Eve. Or signs made from Christmas tree lights that say the same thing and are elevated to the height of the blinking light. Bellevue has one like this every year that says, "Merry Christmas."

This is not rocket science, nor is it an engineering problem; it's a how-people-process-information problem. There must be a cognitive psychologist working for the state who could sort this out.

Larry Warner

Bellevue and Ketchum

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