Albion Recorder & Calhoun/Jackson Morning Star Columns

Looking Out: Childspeak

By Jim Whitehouse

Having recently spent some time driving in southern Florida’s major metropolitan area, I
have some Yankee country boy observations to share.

Given the total lack of freeze/thaw cycles and given that the roads in Florida are built on
sand, not clay, there is no excuse for the existence of potholes.

True—they are not as common as in Michigan, where holes in the pavement are as
abundant as on a sheet of pegboard, but we found a few.

If a vehicle is spotted weaving from one side of the road to the other in Florida, it is likely
due to high levels of chemicals in the driver’s bloodstream, whereas in Michigan such behavior
has everything to do with avoiding potholes.

Also, because it is impossible to weave from one side of the road to the other to avoid
potholes when your vehicle is wedged tightly between unending streams of traffic, you must
simply bite the bullet and hit the holes.

On the plus side, I did not see one of those ridiculous “Limited Sight Distance” signs that
we have in Michigan. The ones that cause the driver to think, “What? Huh?” just before driving
into the side of a combine pulling out of a driveway just over the top of the hill.

No. In Florida the signs actually read “Hidden Intersection” or “Hidden Driveway”. The
ones that cause the driver to immediately panic, slow down, and pay attention to the road ahead
for fear of hitting a cement truck pulling out of a driveway just over the top of a hill.

There are a lot of cement trucks down there, but nary a combine. Or a hill.

Because there are over 9 Million people and seemingly 40 Million vehicles existing in
South Florida, traffic management is essential. Traffic engineers are particularly fond of what
they call “traffic calming” which means getting people to slow down in residential areas.

In a few neighborhoods, this is accomplished by placing tiny little traffic circles in the
intersections. These are intended to force drivers to slow way down while they scratch their
heads and wonder: 1) Can I beat all the other cars to the circle so I have the right of way? 2) Can
my vehicle actually turn that tightly? 3) If I can go around this circle at 5 MPH, surely I can do it
at 25MPH, right?

In most areas “traffic calming” is accomplished not with expensive roundabouts but with
speed bumps, speed humps and speed tables—all variants of the same bone-shaking, car-
suspension-destroying concept of building models of Hadrian’s Wall across the roads. On many
roads, these bumps, humps and tables appear every 100 yards or so.

The effect is salutary—drivers do slam on their brakes 20 feet beforehand to slow down
then bump and grind over the barriers.

Then they push the pedal to the metal, drag-race style, before slamming on the brakes for
the next bump, hump or table.

Traffic lights are rife on the busy streets, each intersection festooned with fixtures
allowing right turns, left turns, U-turns, and no turns, allotted to every lane of every road. Given
the volume of traffic, these Las Vegas Strip-Times Square light displays are probably necessary,
but there is no law (yet) preventing me from hating them.

The Floridians who deal with them daily have found a way to avoid the angst—they
simply ignore red lights. Entire battalions of vehicles pass through intersections after the lights
turns red.

Finally, I have concluded that using a turn signal in Florida must be a felony, because so
few people risk incarceration by actually using them.

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