Every morning I go to a gym in Durham to work out. I try to get there before 6 a.m., because as anyone who gets up regularly at that hour knows, that is when the overnight flashing yellow and red traffic signals revert to their normal, if that is not too charitable a word, operation.
So many traffic signals in the Triangle are so badly timed that getting stuck at the wrong intersection at the wrong red light is a kind of slow death. Drivers will do anything to avoid them–even get up at 5:30 in the morning.
One morning recently I was late getting out of the house. I was driving east down Chapel Hill Street, and just as I came to the intersection with Gregson Street, the light changed to steady red.
Time came to a dead stop with me as I sat, waiting for the light to change. Soon, a couple of cars and a city bus joined me, and within a few minutes there were at last a dozen vehicles in both directions, waiting right there in front of Durham police headquarters. Hardly a single car passed going south on Gregson.
Finally drivers began to lose patience. First to break ranks was the city bus, which made a left-hand turn in front of me to head south on Gregson. Then a car went through the empty intersection to continue west on Chapel Hill Street. I looked in my rearview mirror. I was first at the intersection, and cars were lining up behind me. I was having an existential crisis.
As I wondered what to do, a WUNC news announcer came on the radio with a story about Senate Bill 243, from state Sen. Aaron Plyler, which would allow several cities, Durham among them, to install cameras at intersections to catch vehicles that run red lights. The good senator’s bill had passed the day before on a 45 to 3 vote.
My existential crisis resolved by the irony, I continued on my way. In my rearview mirror I could see fed-up scofflaws in both directions ignoring the interminable signal.
Saving lives by busting signal jumpers is a fine idea. So is fixing the lights so people aren’t tempted to do so.