Su Lum: Traffic lights

When the first traffic light went up on Main Street it was the end of an era, but now, 30-some years later, I’m not sure which one it was. I think it must have been the one by Main Street Bakery, put up because it was a school crossing, back when the yellow and red brick buildings were the elementary and middle schools.

In bureau-speak, putting up a stop light is called “signalizing,” and when construction began to signalize the corner of Main and Galena Streets, our fourth but probably not last light, I watched its progress with no small amount of revulsion.

Putting the thing up took forever and, being the most massive of our stop lights with six triple lights across Main, two across Galena and six more on the four lamp posts, it seemed like a clear case of overkill on a corner that probably didn’t need a light at all.

But once everyone got used to it, which is to say once local drivers stopped driving through on red because we (oops) forgot it was there, and once local pedestrians stopped stepping blindly into traffic and remembered to wait for the WALK signal, I have to say that I actually think it is an improvement.

First, the light is short, so it doesn’t matter if you get caught by it. If the light is red when you’re passing the Stage 3 movie theater, you can pretty much bet that it will be green when you get there, and vice versa, so you know in advance how to pace yourself.

Second, the light eliminates doubt and confusion about the motives and intentions of the pedestrians. You no longer have to wonder if the person at the curb is planning on crossing the street, or just standing on the corner talking on a cell phone (you slow down and are impatiently waved forward). Men in black crossing the street at night no longer constitute a hazard.

Third, if you’re in the far lane, you don’t have to worry that the vehicle next to you has stopped for a pedestrian whom you cannot see but who may end up on your windshield if you don’t stop, too.

This way, if it’s green you go, if it’s red you stop, and the walkers wait for the walk signal. It’s not as sporting as it used to be, but it works.

A block west, the Hotel Jerome light continues to be a major irritant to everyone. Originally it had an “all walk” light, where traffic stopped in both directions and everyone scampered across the streets horizontally or diagonally and only short-distance runners could make it to the curb before the “don’t walk” light flashed.

It is a long light, and the “all walk” feature made it even longer. Walkers could see their hair grow gray waiting for their turn, and drivers steamed behind their wheels. The “all walk” was replaced by the system we have now: straight crossings with second lights to show pedestrians how much longer they have to get across the street alive if they aren’t mowed down by construction trucks and SUVs making right turns into the crosswalk.

I look at all the pedestrian bridges going up to connect our trails, some of which seem sturdy enough to handle light rail or bus lanes, and think we ought to be able to come up with something innovative to get people across Mill and Main: a bridge over, a tunnel under, a mini-chairlift or mini-gondola.

We could paint the little gondola cars to look like packs of cigarettes, candy bars, beer and soda cans, selling the rights to the highest bidder the way schools, restaurants and bars sell out to Coca-Cola and Pepsi.

[Su Lum is a longtime local who is surprised we don’t have logos on the bridges. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.]


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