Every place I’ve ever lived had its own special archivists devoted to cataloging the many sins of the city’s drivers.
“They drive so slow here!” (Seattle) “They drive so fast here!” (Atlanta) “You can’t ever turn left here!” (Los Angeles) “Wow, you can really see the sparks when they hit those speedbumps.” (Albuquerque) “They drive so fast here!” (Los Angeles)
Montgomery’s no exception. Who among us, be we locals or expats, have not sat over tea or something more high-octane and listened to (if not held forth on) the itemized sins of Montgomery drivers? They inexplicably turn from the middle lane. They don’t know what to do at a yellow light. They stop at weird times. They freak out when someone uses their horn. Etc.
It’s so common to blame a city’s traffic issues on its drivers. If only we’d learn how to follow at an appropriate distance, discover that our brakes work best if applied only when necessary, and resist the temptation to text while driving on I-65, everything would be better, right? Sadly, no. Montgomery drivers (aided by inept politicians that refuse to make it illegal to text and drive) have plenty of failings just like the idiot vehicle operators in every other city in the world. But they’re only to blame for part of our City of Dreams’ traffic nightmares.
To be fair, we don’t really have “traffic” here in the way that major cities do. Which, for anyone who’s ever sat on the 405 or the 285 in rush hour, is a major plus for life in our fair city. Instead, we have hyper-local catastrophe zones created when bad driving meets worse urban planning. We call them Montgomery’s Worst Intersections, and we’re counting them down right here on Lost In Montgomery for your rubbernecking pleasure.
4. Taylor Road and I-85 eastbound. We get it. You don’t have to be ashamed of going to Eastchase now that Earthfare is there. But it’s still the Hellscape and you kind of want to get in and out without anyone knowing about your dirty business. Yet, when you exit the Interstate and turn onto Taylor Road from that far right hand lane, we’d still ask that you pay attention to the sign that says “KEEP MOVING.” Because it means that you should KEEP MOVING, not pause daintily to see how you will get across three lanes of traffic to the Banana Republic. This intersection is one that has actually been recently improved by the addition of the extended turn lane to facilitate actual merging. Now, if someone would just tell the drivers.
3. All of Zelda Road at lunchtime. Your nightmare begins when you try to get off 85 by way of the Ann Street exit. You will be forgiven for thinking you are likely to be rear-ended because, well, that’s what happens when you are stopped on the Interstate. The city planners, bless their asphalt-encrusted hearts, didn’t seem to anticipate more than one or two cars hoping to exit onto Ann Street at any given time. Especially at lunch. Especially with the cornucopia of gross food options south of the freeway. Downtown traffic floods here since the downtown eating options are poor. La Zona Rosa, the Down the Street Cafe, Moe’s, the various fast food magnets — they all lure people with their siren call of lunch. Oh, if you want to go left on Ann, there’s a Wal-Mart, which is always crowded because it’s the cornerstone of the consumer economy.
Should you manage to successfully turn right in search of food, your gauntlet is just beginning. There is an unimaginable 90-degree curve at Country’s Barbecue where cars are flying onto the main road from all angles. Woe unto all who seek to cut across to the secret shortcut. Still on Zelda, you will then endure several blocks of people trying to turn left across traffic into various tiny parking lots — without a turn lane or light in sight. Sad that a street named after one of our city’s most famous and interesting literary figures (well, named after someone who was named after her) is in fact a soulless and congested fast food-pocked deathtrap.
2. The Boulevard and Narrow Lane Road, near the entrance to Baptist South. Let’s say that you were designing byways around a medical center where lots of elderly people and injured people and disabled people and grieving families and small free-range children were likely to be wandering about, particularly going to the CVS across Narrow Lane Road. Now, let’s say that you were also a sociopath. That explains why you decided to run an access road along the Boulevard next to a dubious-looking pedestrian bridge, just up from a crucial turn-in (Normandie Dr.) to the hospital complex. If the five-way stop isn’t already a recipe for wrecks, throw in the general unfamiliarity of the population with service roads running parallel to major streets, and add in a bunch of ambulances and elderly drivers who are either a) terrified or b) trying to be nice and let people out in front of them. This intersection has it all.
1. Was there any serious argument about which intersection would be the worst? If you’ve spent any time at all where Narrow Lane improbably joins both Carter Hill and Mulberry, you already agree with our choice. In the first place, there’s no shortcut around this intersection unless you’re willing to go all the way on the other side of Huntingdon or, to the north, the freeway.
Turning left from Woodley (at Huntingdon) onto Narrow Lane? Break out the books on tape or some podcasts, because you’re going to be idling there on Narrow for a while, wondering what on Earth could be going on at the improbably-named Country Club Shopping Center (where Martin’s is).
The Winn-Dixie in that shopping center is an essential part of the surrounding neighborhoods, a home-from-work stop for everyone whose grocery needs don’t rise to the level of Publix. Then there’s the poor Sonic, whose business has to be significantly depressed by the fact that there’s no obviously legal way to get into and out of its parking lot without getting onto Carter Hill. And the scrum on Carter Hill! The addition of the extra red light in between the other two red lights adds an element of mystery to the whole experience. At one end is a country club and a college campus, while at the other is a hellish commercial set of strip malls and (not too far down Carter Hill) another college campus.
It’s as if someone took a poorly rehearsed but passable high school ballet recital and then, just to see what happened, tossed in a wild colobus monkey. City planners intent on crippling a major urban area would probably come up with something like this intersection to perfectly compliment a city with no functioning public transportation.