Why the freeway message signs don’t say ‘have a nice day’

Posted on May 26th, 2008 – 7:10 PM
By Roadguy

Here’s my column from the Sunday paper. If you’ve already read it elsewhere, please skip on down to the comments below. Thanks.

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Alert reader Mark from Chanhassen has a vision for those message boards on the freeways:

I think it would be a good idea to utilize these message boards in down times for friendly messages for freeway drivers, such as please don’t tailgate, use cell phones sparingly, allow cars to merge, don’t drink and drive … MnDOT could even have an in-house contest to come up with best phrase.

Todd Kramascz, the MnDOT traffic guru in charge of the boards, said the messages must relate to traffic congestion, crashes, hazards such as flooding, or emergencies such as Amber Alerts.

That’s because researchers have found that drivers are more likely to pay attention to signs that aren’t always displaying a message, Kramascz said. And he noted that blank signs also convey information: “They’re stating essentially that all is well.”

Seat-belt reminders and DWI enforcement alerts do appear on the signs, but only at certain times of the year under an arrangement with other state agencies, he said. Some Twin Cities signs had a “Thanks for buckling up” message on Saturday.

LIGHT RAIL UP IN THE AIR?

Alert reader David has a question about the Central Corridor light-rail line:

Why don’t they create an elevated track on Washington Avenue for the light rail line like they have in Chicago?

Roadguy has heard various versions of this question — why aren’t they building a flyover at Snelling Avenue, why not elevate the whole line, etc.

The main answer is money, said Laura Baenen, a spokeswoman for the project — it’s much more expensive to build a bridge over the street than to set rails into the ground.

There are other reasons, too: More right-of-way is required because of support structures; track noise is louder and travels farther; access for disabled passengers requires elevators; maintenance is more difficult. Baenen said she “could go on and on” — much like the debate over the line itself.

SEAT-BELT EXEMPTIONS

Last week, when we talked about how there are no seat-belt law exemptions for police or taxi drivers, I neglected to give examples of actual exemptions, so here are a few:

A person driving in reverse.
Rural mail carriers.
A driver or passenger in a car made before 1965.
A person with a doctor’s note.

There’s also a provision for “a person who is actually engaged in work that requires the person to alight from and reenter a motor vehicle at frequent intervals” — and who doesn’t drive more than 25 miles per hour between stops.

That means your garbage guy is more or less covered. Cabbies, not so much.

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