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August 8, 1997

For an exhilarating experience, try threading your way through traffic in the downtown area these days. It's a special thrill at peak periods but it can be a lot of fun whenever more than one driver reaches an intersection at approximately the same moment. Our traffic control system, as you may have noticed, has been haywire for quite a little while.

We're pretty accustomed to this in the downtown area because of the frequent breakdowns in the traffic lights controlling movement around the square. The problem there this summer has been understandable because of the construction of new sidewalks around the courthouse park. But the malady in recent weeks spread temporarily to the usually reliable lights at Seventh and Fir, which must be one of the busiest crossroads in the Perry traffic grid. It was a special problem there because travelers on U.S. 64 use that route to get across the city, and they are not accustomed to our quaint system. They must have been bewildered by the flashing red lights that confronted them there until those lights were fixed earlier this week.

The problem downtown is deciding which driver is going to make the first move. Sometimes it comes down to "I dare you!" glares from motorists on opposing sides, and a game of chicken seems imminent. I understand that on the West Coast this type of thing often results in the use of firearms.

Fortunately, cool heads have prevailed here so far. Most folks seem almost a bit amused by the "Stop Sign" barrels around the square, but even that refinement was lacking at Seventh and Fir. Crossing the intersection becomes more of a challenge when some poor soul wants to turn left and those coming from the opposite side do not choose to allow him/her do so. Pedestrians have their own problems while trying to dodge motorists in cross walks.

By my reckoning, we have seven traffic lights in this town -- four around the square and three on Fir avenue. Those on the square are currently out of commission. When all of our signals are working once again, I still think it would be a good idea to have left turn only lanes on Fir Avenue. That would solve one of the problems we have even when the system is up and running.

Of course, as a friend mentioned the other day, we don't have a traffic "rush hour" in Perry; it's more like a "rush minute." Even so, tempers get mighty frayed and there are a lot of potential fender benders on our streets this summer as we try to cope with this problem. Here's hoping someday we'll have a system that can be depended upon to do the job right.