Posts Tagged ‘traffic signals’

Why you better not run a red light in Europe

July 29th, 2009 Comments off

My high school years were spent in Laguna Beach, Calif., where, after school, I worked for the local newspaper as editor of its “Teenpage.” It was a great job. Interviewed Timothy Leary, Grace Slick and a whole bunch of other 60s icons who visited Laguna.

Back in those days, unlike today, we could accept freebies, and they included free passes to Orange County International Raceway, a fancy drag strip about 10 miles away, alongside the El Toro Marine Corps air base. (The base was closed years ago and is being turned into a regional park and the raceway site is filled with office buildings, nice apartments and the Spectrum shopping center with a Nordstrom’s, a huge Target, boutique retailers, some nice restaurants and a thousand-plex movie theater.)

On occasion, back in the late 1960s, I would take a date to the Saturday night drag races and sit in the VIP viewing tower (free sodas!), but usually I went alone, and with my press pass stood down at the starting line, taking pictures of the growling dragsters’ fire-spittin’, tire-smokin’ duels. At the starting line, the drivers focused all their attention on the “Christmas tree” starting lights. There were white lights on top that would glow when the dragster’s front tires had found the starting line, and then a vertical three-pack of yellow lights, with a green light on the bottom.  When both dragsters were set, the starter would begin the light sequence that, altogether, lasted maybe a second: yellow yellow yellow GREEN! (Below it was the red light, which would shine if a driver jumped the gun.)

That’s almost how it works in Europe. If you’ve already got the green light, it will turn to a flashing green, then yellow, then red.  If it’s flashing green, you’ve got a few more seconds to make it across the  intersection. If it’s yellow, you slow down so when it turns red, you are stopped. And you’d better stop, because the cross-traffic motorists will be raring to go. And here’s why: The red light will be joined by a yellow light before going green. Yellow tells the driver to engage the clutch because it’s almost show time. No one wants to sit at a green light while the fellow in front of you is trying to shift into first.

The moment the European traffic signal turns green, motorists fly into the intersection, confident that the cross traffic will already have stopped.  Nobody in Europe, as far as I can tell, runs a red light.

Las Vegans would not last long in Europe. They’d run red lights and get T-boned by some guy in a Smart car.

Why Europeans do so well in downhill skiing

July 23rd, 2009 Comments off

I’ve figured it out, why it is that Europeans do so well in downhill skiing events.

First of all, when you are outside of the city, Europe has two speeds. Very slow (tractors lazily pulling trailers of hay down country roads) or very fast (especially on the autobahns if you’re in a sedan, or down twisting mountain roads if you’re in Spandex or cloaked in leather atop a performance motorcycle).

Secondly, the traffic signals in most European countries have this neat feature: When the signal is red, it goes to yellow before going to green. This is warn you that it’s now time to engage the clutch so when the signal turns green, you are ready to go and not sitting there fumbling with the gear shift.  But developing the skill of getting out of the gate the very  moment the light turns green pays off on the competitive slopes as well. (And unlike in Las Vegas where you are more likely to be killed by someone running a red light, in Europe you are more likely to be T-boned by someone anticipating the green, so people really really really do slow down when the light goes from green to yellow.)

And here is the third reason why Europeans do so well in downhill skiing. This is not obvious but now I am convinced it is the most effective training tool: the traffic roundabout.  When you enter the roundabout, you lean to the right, and  then as you continue the turn you lean to the left, and as you take your exit you lean again to the right. The faster you drive through a roundabout, and learn the cadence of leaning right, left and right, the better you will do in the downhill slalom.

By the way, Europeans do very poorly in downhill skiing if they approach the slalom gate from the left and their first move is to lean left to go into the gate, versus to the right. They are fighting every instinct in their body when their first lean is to the left. This is a symptom of spending too much of their lives in roundabouts.