Naked Streets

by Alan Stark on November 2, 2010

So I’m headed down 28th Street in Boulder to Mickey D’s for another heart-stopping sausage-and-egg muffin. Let me explain that 28th Street ranks with the butt-ugliest streets in any town in North America from Toronto to Juarez, including Detroit.

The stoplight is flashing red, obviously malfunctioning. I cautiously pull into the left-hand turn lane and stop and flip on my turn signal. I carefully look in all directions. The first three cars in the oncoming lane move across the intersection very slowly and the cars behind them all stop. A guy in an Audi waves me across the intersection.

I clench my teeth and creep across, knowing that some buffed-out, over-caffeinated, entitled software engineer at some start-up doomed to failure is going to charge across the intersection and T-bone my old 4Runner. And then yell at me for going too slowly and getting in his way.

But nothing happens. I cruise across the intersection and on to maybe my 10,321st sausage-and-egg muffin.

You need to know that Boulder is a fairly good place to live, but that there about 21,487 really important people that live here who drive as if the rest of us don’t matter. They are usually driving high-end Eurotrash cars or, if their last start-up flamed-out, Subies. In their minds, there are simply no rules that apply to them. When they don’t have their hands in their pants, because no sane person would sleep with them, they are driving while texting, talking on the cell or doing their eye makeup in the mirror (this is not just an indictment of men; there are woman assholes in Boulder, too, maybe more).

So this moderate, mindful reaction to a traffic light malfunction must have been an anomaly. When I finish my breakfast-in-a-wrapper, there will 297 cars backed-up at the same intersection with two of Boulder’s Finest with donut crumbs on their chests and one Deputy Sheriff trying to straighten out the mess.

Nope. Not true. When I reach the intersection again, the red lights are still flashing in all directions and traffic is moving slowly but efficiently.

This got me to thinking. If drivers in Boulder can manage a busy, malfunctioning intersection, why couldn’t more laid-back folks do the same thing in mountain towns where summer and winter traffic can sometimes just stop dead for minutes at a time due to a red light when no one is moving across the intersection on the green light?

A little research found that this concept is called Naked Streets, something the Euros have been doing for years, and it seems to work. And not only does traffic move more efficiently, but there are fewer fender-benders at these intersections. “Reports often cite the town of Drachten, Holland, as an example. Accidents at one major intersection fell from 36 in four years to two in two years after the traffic lights were removed.” This from a New York Times article of 9.2.09.

So, how about a little traffic experimentation in mountain towns? It might just make us a little more civilized and free to manage our own traffic instead of mindlessly reacting to traffic lights. That we would no longer be supporting the international traffic light cartel, the thousands of government employees that maintain the lights and the criminals who manufacture those traffic violation cameras is a good thing. That our Finest would have more time for donuts is a better thing.

Alan Stark, who used to be MG’s assistant editor, owns and operates Boulder Bookworks. boulderbookworks.com.


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