Traffic Control

The testosterone poisoned ding-dong whistling past in the new Z car was about to plumb, literally, the mysteries of Cutler Street. I paused, turned and held my breath as dipshit headed toward the dip.

The lead-up to the imminent demonstration of dumbassery came on a recent evening as I rode with a commercial driver up Cox Avenue, a quiet residential street much like Cutler. Where the city had years ago placed “speed” humps to slow traffic, his battered, stalwart Corolla shrugged off the concussion. Automobile engineers calculating for this sort of punishment.

“They are called speed bumps, right?” he said with a sneer and a laugh.

“You wouldn’t be doing that if it was one of those dips,” I remarked.

He turned, his mirth dashed for a moment. “They’re the worst.”

The very next day, the freakish coincidence was announced by six city trucks converging at the intersection of McCulloch and Cutler. At the northwest corner there was this semi-permanent puddle, a depression formed by the intersection of gutter, camber of the roads and the immediate topography. This non-draining concavity was a defacto bird bath in hot, rainy times providing an ongoing party in the life cycle of neighborhood birds — the insects who became their supper.

I approached one of the workers who seemed to exhibit leadership qualities. “This is about the puddle, right?” I guessed.

“Yep,” said the grizzled veteran of Public Utilities. We discussed what would have to happen to allow the puddle to drain. Damned if the crew wasn’t going to create what I’d referenced just the night before. Within a day, the former, pronounced crown of Cutler Street to the north end of the intersection had been modified. The upper McCullough street gutter now stretched across Cutler, a sloped, paved trench maybe 20 feet wide and a foot or so deep. It didn’t take a degree in civil engineering to predict the results.

Most drive sensibly slow, their automobiles displaying a gentle, rocking motion. The higher the speed, the more memorable, BUH-BAM, the basic education on kinetics and vehicle dynamics. I imagined the sense inside a vehicle, a disconcerting millisecond of one’s guts in free fall followed by an instantaneous, violent reversal of force via a grinding, expensive chin shot. Observing who slowed and who didn’t became sort of a game. The higher the speeds, the more violent the results. The dip was soon scarred with undercarriage gouges. One afternoon I dragged a still-steaming muffler into the gutter.

Mr. Z was by far the fastest attempt yet. After he’d hammered it I made a quick estimate of how much money the resultant debris skittering up Cutler represented. The cussing I usually imagine hearing from inside became maniacal laughter. This was 90 proof synchronicity, straight from the bottle. The Z accelerated toward his second test, created by the prison job and the demolition and removal of the west end of Montford Avenue aka Highway “13,” the storied “longest, shortest” (think about that) NC state highway that formerly led to the old main gate of Central. Owing to justifiable concerns about inattentive, distracted, careless drivers heading west on Montfort plunging 30 feet to the Norfolk Southern rail line below, contractor Balfour and Beatty, the city and state, spurred by the Boylan Heights neighborhood association, commenced an evolving project that at times has taken on the feel of a Robert Smithson (Spiral Jetty) piece. The current line-up consists of a row of pine trees, a chain link fence and a primary, ill conceived but robust concrete barrier the makers clumsily attempted to camouflage via “Moderne” elements of the original 1936 “Munford Avenue” bridge. The brains behind the operation dictated an additional safety feature: a white painted wooden structure and reflective arrow mounted to the concrete barricade advising drivers heading west on Montford of the only path now possible, a left turn.

In the zeal to help prevent a crash into the barrier from the Montford side, no one apparently bothered checking the Cutler Street approach. The orientation of the barricade/arrow at a nearly perfect 45o angle to the 900 angle of the ell is possessed of the potential to create some – um – confusion. While the arrow indicates the only direction possible for those driving west on Montford, a left turn, it also indicates an impossible left hand turn at the top of Cutler. Well, you can take a left – straight into an unhealthy dose of concrete. Only a right is possible, a potential problem for a speeding driver. The photos clearly display the trick of the eye awaiting Captain Ding Dong.
This was the full monte, a trifecta. I poised to dial 911, At least he signaled (for a left) before the squall of tires sounded.

The cure for the above is too simple to warrant explanation. As for the dip, all joking aside, vis-à-vis Raleigh catching the traffic calming bug, the addition of stripes and a sign to this unplanned feature could become a prototype.

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