Tuesday, August 22, 2006

If you're reading my blog, (poor you), you know I recently went on a camping trip to watch a meteor shower away from Seattle's light pollution. It was a great trip. ( Scroll down for pics.)

Despite leaving for home in Plenty of time to get to work, I ended up having to call in late, as the 4-5 hour drive inexplicably took NINE hours. Bumper to bumper traffic from basically the southern border of Washington state to just past Tacoma, south of Seattle.

We kept expecting to see an accident, a work crew, something to explain why a trip took almost twice as long as usual.

Nothing. Well, almost nothing. We did notice several series of huge white oval dots painted on the roadway, approximately 30 feet apart, then they'd go away, then another series would begin. It was like this for several miles.

Looked a lot like this....

Seems that there was a new idea being put into play, the idea being that tailgating is a problem, and by using these dots as reference points, you could maintain a safe following distance.

The problem was that people were either mystified or curious, and therefore slowed down to read the signs and discover the reason for the dots, causing a massive chain reaction backup in traffic.

By the time we went by, the signs were covered up, and only the dots remained. Great idea, guys. Doesn't work on congested highways, I-5 is notoriously overcapacity on most days to begin with. Thanks for making me 3 hours late for work.

Here's the article....

"An attempt by Washington state transportation officials to stop tailgating failed an important reality test over the weekend when it caused massive traffic jams on a two-mile stretch of northbound Interstate 5. Officials had just unveiled the "2 dots 2 safety" program that urged motorists to keep no less than two of the specially painted freeway pavement dots -- 160 feet -- distance from the car in front. Each dot is spaced eighty feet apart on the freeway between Lacey and Nisqually. The hope was to expand the program statewide and use the dots eventually to help police issue $101 citations to drivers for following too closely.

During heavy Saturday traffic, however, motorists maintained the 160-foot distance as required by the posted signs, even though such distances were unnecessary at the crawling pace. This further reduced the freeway's capacity causing a chain-reaction slow-down.

"The idea was not to impede traffic, but to increase safety," state Traffic Engineer Ted Trepanier said in a statement provided to The Olympian newspaper. "We apologize for delays drivers faced as a result of this program."

The state maintains tailgating is a problem because it leads to rear-enders. "Twenty-one people died in rear-end crashes in Washington during 2005," the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) website asserts. In the context of red light cameras, however, Washington state dismisses the importance and severity of potentially fatal rear end collisions and encourages cities to install the automated ticketing systems. WSDOT will now remove the dots from I-5 and try them on another freeway."


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