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July 12th, 2009
Bill Peterson's Blog: Cars on the square

Executive Editor

From our vantage point at Newstreamz World Headquarters, high above Harper’s Hall, one gains a low-riding bird’s eye view of traffic behavior on the courthouse square in downtown San Marcos.

During the winter, one could pass hours watching drivers turn left from Hopkins Street to North LBJ Drive, never losing wonder at their close calls against on-coming traffic. It’s summer now, of course, we have trees on the square, and that view is mostly obstructed.

But the wonders have doubled, for local drivers in the heat of summer have assumed frightening behaviors that have miraculously, thus far, issued no terrible accidents. But it’s only a matter of time.

About least twice per day, a fellow who spends just a couple hours on our balcony notices death defying acts behind the wheel. It seems that local drivers suddenly have begun to believe that the center lane on northbound LBJ is permissible for left-hand turns onto Hopkins Street. This comes as rather shocking news to drivers in the left-hand lane on LBJ, which is the only legal lane for making that left turn onto Hopkins.

Going on a dozen times in the last three weeks, one casual observer has seen drivers in the LBJ center lane make that left turn onto Hopkins, cutting off the driver in the proper left turn lane. In each case, the driver operating correctly has stopped short of smashing into the center lane cheater, thus sparing that cheater her life. One suspects, though, that it won’t be long before the driver in the correct left turn lane, rightly expecting no interference, will smash into the cheater and forever regret hastening the cheater’s demise despite merely following the traffic laws.

Another cheat of increasing frequency is drivers going east on Hopkins and turning across two lanes of on-coming traffic to seize parking spots angled west on the north side of Hopkins, in front of The Coffee Pot and Harper’s Hall. This practice is rife with peril, as it increases the possibility for rear-end collisions. It’s hard enough to back out of a diagonal parking spot just accounting for the traffic behind you. Now, you have to worry about some slob coming from the other direction and trying to swipe a parking spot that he is not legally entitled to pursue from his position on the road. Because that cheater is concentrating on his ill-gotten parking spot, he’s not attentive to people backing out of the spot right next to it. Again, it’s just a matter of time before we get a rear-end collision.

The summer is uncomfortable, tempers are sure to flair and people are likely to act hastily. But please remember that the traffic laws aren’t merely laws. They regulate expectations for law-abiding drivers.

The person turning left from the LBJ left lane onto Hopkins Street shouldn’t have to anticipate that some muffinhead in the LBJ center lane will try to make an illegal left turn, endangering others of whom she is apparently unaware. The driver backing out of a diagonal spot on the north side of Hopkins Street, slowly inching backwards before finally establishing that there is no traffic behind her, ought to not have to worry about being rear-ended by some jerk trying to slick his way into a parking spot from the other side of the street.

It hasn’t been such a big deal, so far. But when it becomes a big deal, it’s going to become a terribly big deal. So, watch it.

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0 thoughts on “Bill Peterson's Blog: Cars on the square

  1. It is too bad you could not observe the intersetion of LBJ and San Antonio from you vantage point, you would really be amazed. The most dangerous aspect of that intesecion is that the yellow light on the stop light facing LBJ is no longer than any other stop light, yet because of the dog leg that San Antonio makes, it takes at least twice as long to clear that intersection. Anyone traveling north on LBJ that enters the intesection after the yellow light turns will run the red light. I bet you there are a hundred red light runners a day at that intersection.

    I have been on the sqaure for 6 years now, and it is really amazing how few accidents I have seen. When you drive through the sqaure you should go no faster than 20 mpg, and always anticipate that someone is going to be backing out of parking space in front of you.

  2. As a cab driver here in San Marcos, I have seen it all. At least once a week I am frantically flagging to someone that they are driving in the wrong direction on either LBJ or Guadalupe. Further down past the square, at the intersection of LBJ and Cheatham, I have been witnessing an increasing amount of people cutting down the one way street to get to whatever establishment they are trying to get to despite oncoming traffic. At first I thought it was a mistake, they didn’t know, until after a few times flagging them they were going the wrong way, they pointed at wherever they were trying to get to and smiling and waving. Apparently the police have noticed the increase in idiots doing this, and what do they do? They follow the cheating car, down the wrong way with cars swerving out of the way, to ticket the cheating car. I find this just as irresponsible as the idiot that did it in the first place. They don’t even attempt to wait for traffic to clear before doing such an irresponsible move.

  3. Speaking of one way streets, I recently witnessed a young (freshman?) student turn out of the dorm parking lots on Moon, past all the signs that would inform her that the street was one way in the other direction, nearly hit me because she was talking on her cell phone, and then stop in the middle of University to blame her misdirection on her GPS. Because it told her to turn right. GPS is not a brain replacement people…

    People ignoring signs aside, it would help if the city would use street paint that lasted more than 6 months. It nearly impossible to see the arrows on the streets in many places.

  4. Or how about just getting rid of one ways all together? I see absolutely no point in them. All they do is confuse the morons even further and put everyone else at risk. Would it really be so bad if LBJ and Guadalupe became two way streets?

  5. The transition back to two-way streets downtown is being discussed/planned for recommendation to City Council, presently in the Main Street Board meetings.

    Allegedly, the streets downtown used to be two-way,…. but according to several sources, they were converted to one way streets back in the ’60s to facilitate an evacuation, in the event of a nuclear attack (I’m serious!).

    Not that it is totally an impossibility these days, but people are not installing bomb shelters in their backyards anymore,…. so the perceived threat of nuclear holocaust might today be outweighed by the economic and immediate safety benefits of reversing that (outmoded?) decision.

    Most people, including the merchants downtown seem to favor two-way streets,….so maybe it will be possible to convince City Council to make a decisive move to enable that end result.

  6. LBJ is not really built to handle half of the traffic that Guadalupe carries to IH 35. Once you get south of Cheatham, it becomes much narrower. If Guadalupe became 2-way, then it would have 1/2 the capacity to carry traffic out of downtown. Either that would make it more congested, or it would move some southbound traffic to LBJ. South LBJ would need some fairly significant improvements to handle that traffic.

    I am not sure how that would sit with the people on South LBJ, but they certainly ought to be given as much weight as those who are downtown.

    The change to 2-way would also mean dumping more people at an uncontrolled intersection with IH 35.

    The alternative, I suppose, is to have LBJ 2-way until Grove Street and then carry them over to Guadalupe, but the further south the one-way traffic goes, the more cars you will see going the wrong way, once the 2-way section ends.

    Two-way traffic on LBJ and Guadalupe will also lower the level of service of those streets (according the reports given to the Transportation Advisory Board), essentially offsetting any gains seen from the computer-controlled lights that we paid so much for.

    So, it is not as simple as many people would like it to be. To date, the TAB has not been contacted since making our recommendation against this change. I would hope that we would be brought in for at least a brief discussion, if our recommendation is going to be disregarded.

  7. Hmmm….

    Yes,…it would be good to get all heads together on this. And you make good points about the traffic lights, flows, etc. It would have been good to perhaps formulate a final plan before spending all of that money,…but there is an infinite supply of that, right? (not!)

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