My turn: Not using fire tragedy as a vehicle
August 27, 2007
The fire is burning, growing and I am trapped in traffic on the two-lane highway watching it burn. Not only am I trapped but the emergency vehicles attempting to go to the scene of the fire are trapped behind me as well. Traffic is moving at 4 miles per hour. There is no way around it and no way through it. The fire grows.
Some people believe in reacting to emergencies, others believe in preparing for them. I personally vote for half way between the two extremes. This means I have extra water and food supplies but probably not as much as recommended. I have a shovel in my truck, but no bucket. I believe in a reasonable amount of preparation without the fear that immobilizes.
I don’t believe in making things worse by inaction, overreaction or by design. In the face of today’s fire I must say I consider the alternative for the Kings Beach core improvement project, which narrows the highway to one lane in each direction to be right up there on the list of seriously foolish and amazingly dangerous. Tahoe is already the land of bottlenecks and traffic gridlock; very few escape routes and frequent need of said escape routes. Losing just one exit can cripple the economy and the community for lengthy periods of time that can go into days even months.
In the face of this reality why would anyone consider narrowing a major roadway effectively cutting the carrying capacity in half or more and then adding further obstruction to what is left in the name of roundabouts? At least in Tahoe City they have the center lane, in some places, to help alleviate the problem.
Just two days ago there was a traffic accident in the core area of Kings Beach that blocked traffic for over 45 minutes. If there had been only one lane of traffic as the plan reads, then emergency services might never have reached the injured and no traffic would have gotten around the blockage at all. Luckily there are no roundabouts and there are still two lanes in each direction so that there was the ability to go around safely.
Shrinking the road capacity does not slow down traffic and neither does it make for less traffic. Instead it makes for more traffic attempting to use a smaller amount of space. In fluid physics this causes things (liquids) to move faster (not slower) in order to move through the narrower space in the same amount of time. In traffic it just irritates people, encourages road rage, which in turn encourages bad behavior behind the wheel with speeding and not paying attention being high up on the list of dangers. Shrinking the road capacity does not make the town prettier or more environmentally friendly it creates gridlock, smog and pollution. Shrinking the road capacity does not make it safer for bicyclists and pedestrians it simply makes them bigger targets for angry motorists.
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My prayers and concerns go out to those already impacted by this fire. I am not using this tragedy as a vehicle just as a warning.
I really hope that those people who are in favor of reducing road capacity never have to wait for an emergency vehicle that is stopped in traffic because the road was narrowed and the roundabout is in the way.