Slave to traffic lights

CASSANDRA HOTALING HAHN PHOTO

[Originally published in the Rutland County Express on 8/18/11]

Recently, Herald reporter Gordon Dritschilo posed a question on his blog and later in his weekly print column asking what people’s least favorite traffic light in Rutland was. It’s a good question — so many to choose from — that I couldn’t help but add my own two cents. (As an added bonus, ripping off his idea then gave me opportunity to deepen our fierce-ish column/blog feud.)

While Gordon only got a trickle of responses highlighting some of the worse lights in the city, I got a flurry of comments when I took the question to Facebook. (I’m not sure what that says about my reach versus Gordon’s a topic for another column, perhaps.)

Not surprisingly, the lights on Route 7 were the most despised. And I can’t disagree. While Woodstock Avenue does occasionally get congested, especially in the winter when the flantlander SUVs choke the lanes, traffic is fairly fluid. Downtown, the signals are for the most part short — though, the Merchants-Center-Evelyn triangle can at times be daunting.

But the strangled flow and subsequent waits on Route 7 are unrivaled.

I remember years ago when the new lights were installed on Route 7, the promise and brief reality of a smooth, synchronized trip north to south.

However, when I moved back to Rutland several years ago, I discovered that a ride along 7 was had become an erratic and trying gas-brake-honk ordeal. It’s the vehicular equivalent of trying to use a computer that’s still running Windows 95. Katrina agrees: “You can’t get from (East) Washington to Burnham or (East) Washington to the mall without at least three stops,” she vented. “It makes for some serious road rage when you travel those ways more than once a day.”

While simply getting two consecutive green lights is hard enough, turning left is near impossible. How many hours have I — have we all — lost in left turn purgatory on Route 7? And that feeling of abandonment is only compounded when you notice that you’ve been skipped in the signal rotation and wait another round (or two) before you’re free. I can’t be the only one who reverts to my 5-year-old self, crying out “That’s not fair!” to no one as I bang my hands on the steering wheel.

Of all the left turns, the consensus was that Center and East Washington Streets were both worthy of dishonorable mention.

The left turn signal also presents an ethical dilemma: If the intersection is completely empty, is it OK to turn on red? Technically, it’s not, but I know I am not alone wrestling with this one. Think about it: it’s 11:30 at night on a Tuesday, you’re the only car on the street and you have to wait for three to five minutes at that dumb light in front of Christ the King School (another unpopular one, according to my unofficial poll).

It seems like an exception should be made here. Nonetheless, I always chicken out, convinced that there is a police cruiser hiding somewhere just out of sight, possibly employing some kind of fancy Predator-style cloaking device.

But it’s not all left turn signals. A number of frustrated commenters noted that sometimes simply getting onto Route 7 is a chore. The Park Street turn was named at least twice.

“Now that you can’t turn on red, you wait forever,” said Laura. “I usually have to call work to say I will be late.”

Wayne is in agreement on Park Street, adding that he’s “actually changed a flat at some of these hurry-up-and-wait zones.”

Another much maligned spot is the turn out of CVS pharmacy, which drew the ire of several heated local drivers.

“I waited there for literally 15 minutes one time,” Johanna said.

Jennie’s reaction to this particular light is less tempered: “I breathe deeply for a few cycles and then I scream out, ‘WHAT THE ****?!’”

In a similar gripe, Derek noted the light at Staples Plaza is his least favorite.

And while Amanda noted the left turn onto Curtis Avenue as being too long, she also made a plea for better traffic etiquette.

“I love almost getting hit by people who think they can turn left when the car going straight actually has the right away.”

I’ll see Amanda’s complaint and raise her two of my own pet peeves: 1) People who don’t yield the right of way when there is an obstruction on their side of the road; and 2) People who tailgate. My remedy for the latter has always been to drop down to about 25 mph and make them suffer (it’s especially satisfying if you can see their impatient face in your rearview).

It’s true traffic lights can be frustrating, and the ones in Rutland are not unique it their ability to drive people mad. However, as one commenter pointed out, we really don’t have that many of them to begin with. Similarly, we don’t have the endless commutes and stifling gridlock that comes with larger cities. So, sure, these lights maybe annoying, it could be worse.

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