Over the months, I've read a number of articles and letters discussing the traffic problem in Southern California. Some have been rather entertaining, pointing out the stupid things that people do, like merging onto the freeway at 30 m.p.h., using rear-view mirrors to put on makeup, riding the brakes, gawking at accidents, reading the paper and reaching for objects that have fallen in the foot wells.
A lot of the blame for our traffic snarls can be attributed to the shear number of vehicles on our roads, but as the above examples illustrate, volume is not the sole contributor. The quality of driving also plays a significant role in affecting traffic flow.
Perhaps the most aggravating cause of traffic tie-ups is spectator-slowing. We've all experienced it: the macabre scenes of twisted metal frozen in grotesque postures of death, the resulting parade of spectators advancing at a glacial pace to view the carnage (which may be on the other side of the road). Once past the wreckage, there's the overanxious acceleration to feign indifference.
In fact, a fiery crash is quite unnecessary; a couple of flares and some broken glass in the shoulder will do the trick. On Oct. 24, commuters in Irvine were brought to a crawl by the mere appearance of a few hundred crosses (to dramatize county drug deaths) on the hills next to the Santa Ana Freeway.
Since most people can't help being curious, prospects for preventing rubbernecking look pretty bleak. However, there is a way to reduce the occurrence of spectator-slowing by nearly 50%, while introducing other benefits as well. The solution is so obvious that it can't be original.
The question is: Why haven't walls been constructed in the center dividers of all freeways?
With the possible exceptions of Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol, drivers have no business concerning themselves with activities on the opposite side of the road. Building a 6-foot wall in the median would remove this temptation. By confining gawking to individual sides of a freeway, the incidence of rear-ending brought on by distraction would also be cut in half. In addition, a wall blocks oncoming headlights at night, thus improving visibility. Finally, rocks that fall off opposing gravel trucks will have little chance of hopping the wall and hitting windshields.
The only negative aspect of a wall would be the cost. But consider the walls built for noise abatement. These benefit only those who live in the immediate vicinity of a freeway, yet I suspect the cost is covered by all taxpayers.
A wall in the center divider benefits everyone who uses the freeways. Over a short time, the investment would certainly be repaid in time saved commuting, the reduction of accidents from gawking and night blinding, and a decrease in cosmetic damages to windshields and car hoods.