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Jeb Bladine: Beware risks of muscle memory

Drivers in downtown McMinnville need to leave their muscle memory behind and pay close attention to new traffic patterns and controls.

Citywide transportation bond projects became reality this week with activation of new traffic signals along Fifth Street. However, you can’t just assume that everyone read the memo.

When a mind wanders, controlled intersections become dangerous.

People approach uncontrolled intersections with more care because they don’t know what an approaching driver might do. Stop signs and lights reduce that uncertainty, but they lead to higher-speed crashes when someone blows through a stop.

Two intersections with the greatest potential for memory-muscle mishaps are where Fifth Street intersects Baker and Adams. Local people driving north on Baker or south on Adams have never stopped at Fifth, and it’s just a matter of time before a driver’s muscle memory overrides the tactile image of a new overhead stop light.

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Jeb Bladine is president and publisher of the News-Register.

> See his column

If you happen to be driving on Fifth about that time, approaching a green light at Baker or Adams, here’s hoping you are watching that oncoming north-south traffic with a skeptical eye.

Two years ago, writing about a fatal downtown accident, I described a crash I had witnessed at the same intersection 40 years earlier. It was a reminder to me that downtown driving, even at relatively slow speeds, can involve mental mistakes with grim consequences.

Back then I wrote: “There are too many intersections with too many simultaneous distractions: vehicles and pedestrians coming from three directions; adequate vision blocked by parked vehicles; fewer open parking spaces, reducing focus on more important traffic-flow conditions; excess speed by some vehicles; and outright carelessness by some pedestrians.”

There are even more distractions today – more cars searching for fewer places to park; more visitors; more pedestrians enjoying local amenities. The Fifth Street project improves traffic flow by creating a bonafide east-west arterial from Adams Street to a new traffic light at Lafayette Avenue, which should relieve congestion on other streets.

More transportation bond projects will improve traffic on Second Street; develop a series of roundabouts on Hill Road; create infrastructure for a new multi-use district along Alpine Avenue; and improve street/sidewalk safety at locations around the city.

It’s all part of a decade-old planning process that soon will have to begin anew to ease future growth. Meanwhile, leave that muscle memory at home, and keep your best defensive driving plans close at hand.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@newsregister.com or 503-687-1223.

Comments

Don Dix

Jeb,

This whole article 'assumes' there is a muscle to remember!

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