Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Neutral grounds leave room for error

One of the best things New Orleans' founding fathers did was build neutral grounds -- grassy medians -- on major thoroughfares. Almost every other block has a U-turn or turn lane or two to reconsider the direction you wish to travel. New or renewed to New Orleans, I appreciate these options, as I am often lost or confused about where I am headed. My sense of direction is hampered by the fact most of the streets follow the curve of the bends of the river, so I am never traveling east, west, north or south, but southwesterly, northeasterly, etc. Here, they talk in terms of lakeside or riverside.

In Chicago - where the traffic is now third worst in the nation - the streets were paved along old cow paths, spoking out from the center. Many 100-year-old six-way intersections without turn lanes or even protected turn signals back traffic up for blocks because one guy is trying to make a left-hand turn. This can cause outbursts of rage and some reckless attempts to get around him. No such uncivilized behavior exists in New Orleans where drivers often wave me ahead with a smile.

The only things you've got to watch out for if you use the U-turn and turn lanes on St. Charles on Canal are the streetcars, which need some time to stop. They've been known to crash into cars waiting for traffic to let them in. In the Quarter, you've got to keep an eye out for mules.

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