Right at the light

My web maven tells me this site has gone live.  Apparently the implication is that if I don’t glue something up here post haste, I’ll become, de facto, de jure and ex officio a “dead link.”  That is absolutely not what I pay her for, so as usual she defaults to taking charge of this monkey house.

I do pay her for that.  Not nearly enough, but she gets her jollies with the hurting…

What to discuss?  I could make something up, but it’s late and we’re well into our cups around the menageresque Lewis asylum, so maybe better to tell a truth here.  A small truth, that being all I’m up to just now.

The truth is, the smartest intersection management in our little town is performed by the stoplight at 185th and Meridian.  The thing is as mystically sentient as a cop with sweet blood-orange gloves and eyes in the back of her head.

Drive up to it in heavy traffic, and it dispenses regularized access for straight through, left turns, arterial and crossing street with metronomic justice.  Scoot up into the left turn queue when no one else is about, and naturally you get a quick arrow.  But the best and most mystical part of the light is this:  the left turn arrow doesn’t come on before the straight-through lanes, as is common in the Greater Seattle Area, nor does it come on after the strait and wide lanes, as is increasingly popular in the traffic-trendy GSA.

No.  It does both.  Also, it will only trigger the left arrow at need, playfully inveigling straight traffic through alongside the turning lane should opposing traffic permit.

Forget your disposable cell phone, your RFID passport, your snoopy intertubes.  This is radical progress.  For perspective, remember that no less a savant than Bill Gates made his digital bones programming stoplights.  And still, they sucked.

While I’ve never appreciated the dully unambitious approbation “that doesn’t suck,” in the case of traffic lights it constitutes high praise.  I had a buddy in college who got so lit up with rage waiting through interminable cycles of traffic light mismanagement that he embarked on a dedicated program of running every red left turn arrow he encountered.  Still does that.  He is the only man I know with a driving record worse than mine, and he never runs a tittle over the speed limit.  He finally stopped getting tickets only after perfecting his post-Iraq, eye-rolling, skitchy vet persona.  Also, he wears his uniform everywhere he goes.  Now he gets “thank you for your service” and a polite warning.  It’s one of the benefits:  cops get donuts, starlets get good restaurant tables, combat vets get warnings.

But even my buddy would find himself impressed by this remarkable light.  Only in the Republic of Korea have I seen more efficient traffic management, and that required very short men standing on very tall podiums, mid-intersection, bedecked in ribbons and fourragères and spit-shined boots and shiny painted helmet liners, grooving to their individually different drummers as they wheeled and gesticulated like the amped up, overdressed offspring of drum majorettes crossbred to hotel doormen.  For all their energy, discipline and evident dedication, still I always thought the steely-eyed little cops in their oversized fiber-plastic domes and polished leather Sam Browne belts would never have kept the endless Seoul kiss of traffic under their white-gloved thumbs had it not been for the well-oiled Colt .45s lanyard-linked to dress holsters on their hips.

And yet, right here at home, that one homely and unassuming light keeps our semi-urban intersection flowing smoothly, every day and night, through all weather, never requiring a break.  It makes those hardworking Korean cops look a bit pasty and… well, let’s face it:  organic.  The light will shine on for decades, outliving the cops, the skitchy vets, maybe even the frozen head of Bill Gates.

Do you need the shrill whistle of a pedestal-mounted lawgiver to hear the writing on the wall?


  1. That intersection wasn’t nearly as sentient, circa 2002, when I moved out of the area. It was a near-daily frustration, that I couldn’t get it to trigger the left-arrow with my motorcycle, on the way home from work. Nice to hear it’s greatly improved.

  2. I think that light may have been the first light I ever accidentally ran a red through. Just down the street from the joint that used to have the best filafel and schwarma in town. I think its long gone.

    Nice Blog. Thank the sweet wife for me.

  3. Wow. I wish WSDOT was as good as all that… 522 at NE 170th and 99 at 599 are both motorcycle-agnostic, even on a lowered 650…

    Here’s to hi-zoot e-cops doing it *right*… as opposed to that light in Lynnwood…

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