Friday, September 17, 2004

Simon Says: "Cross This Intersection Now!"

So I was biking into downtown yesterday heading to work. Before that I was taking care of some personal matters which took me away from my normal route through Chinatown. So I found myself in rush-hour Halsted Street traffic trying to negotiate trucks and road rage.

I turned on Harrison and was timing the trafic lights perfectly until I reached State Street. While waiting for the signal to proceed I took a glance at the crosswalk sign. I was shocked at what I saw.

These crosswalk signs have countdown timers now. At seven seconds before the light turns red pedestrians now get a five second countdown, then the big orange hand stops flashing when the light turns yellow, giving cars wanting to make left turns two seconds to do so. My first thought after, "Oh, that's neat" and "Should make the intersection safer with the new dorm building open for students" was how Orwellian the sign felt. It's as though you're being given five seconds to cross the intersection before you're left behind with "the terrorists."

I then spent the next half-hour with George Bush's voice in my head telling me that "the terrorists hate our freedom." Of course he coouldn't pronounce "Terrorists" correctly; it came out sounding like "turrists." He tends to have trouble pronouncing words with more than three syllables. For that matter, so do most neo-conservative hawks. But I'm off point now.

This countdown timer also chafes me as condescending. I don't like to be told to do anything, especially when I'm reminded to do so and I already know that someting needs doing. Besides, pedestrians have the right of way on a green light. I'm not one of those assholes who waits until the caution light flares up to cross Congress Parkway, but I will take my time if I started on the green.

After this, what will be next? Will we have nice soothing tones telling us to slow down and come to a halt as the light is turning red?

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