Punishment Lights

You may ask, “OK, what’s a punishment light?” But if you do, I know that you don’t live anywhere near Austin (or from what I hear, L.A.)

Punishment Light: (n) – Traffic light with exceptionally long cycle time (Often 5 mins or more, for no apparent or logical reason) placed there by sadistic Department of Public Works & Potholes employees for the express purpose of punishing people for driving in the city instead of walking, biking, or taking public transit. Often accompanied by the much hated “No Right On Red” or “Right Lane Must Turn Right (Except Buses)” signs. Said lights also can often be forced to cycle immediately or in an abbreviated time by getting out of the car and pushing the “Push to Cross” button at the crosswalks. (e.g. The light at the intersection of Kinney Ave and Barton Springs Rd. This light has a 5 minute+ cycle time (depending on the time of day) if you arrive at it just as it turns red, but will immediately cycle if you mash the button.  This is only a problem if you are turning left as the light allows right turns on red.)

Yeah, it’s a funny description, and I’ll be honest folks, I stoled that title & description. It’s actually taken from a line by ‘Nancy’ the lead character in the Showtime series Weeds.

They cut to her in her car, waiting to turn left at a light with absolutely no traffic whatsoever around her in any direction. Her phone rings, and someone asks if she’s on her way, she responds “Yes, but I’m stuck at the punishment light.” When queried as to what a punishment light is, she goes on to explain that it’s a light that is red for an obscenely long time simply to punish you for missing the green cycle. But it fits so well for many in Austin.

I’ve lived in Austin 9 years as of Yesterday. That’s more than long enough to figure out how this city works. In fact, anyone who’s driven down Congress Avenue through downtown 4 or 5 times should have a pretty good idea. Between the buses stopping constantly, the ill timed traffic lights, the jerks who insist on riding their bikes 5-10mph, and blocking the entire lane (often not the right lane because of the need to go around buses) because there’s no bicycle lane, and the other morons trying to turn left onto 5th or 6th streets (and the absolute stupidity of the ones that think they can drive straight through in the left lane on Congress anytime outside of the 3A-5A timeframe) you figure out very quickly that the officials in this town, in their never-ending well of incompetence, do whatever they can to discourage people from driving simply by not addressing the issue.

I’ve said for years that buses should be banned from Congress Ave through downtown, Colorado & Brazos are just fine for bus routes, and since I generally get everywhere by bus I probably have more right to say so than the average driver. The funny thing is that the ill-timed traffic lights downtown have been a problem so long in Austin that I have a book written in 1979 that complains about them. That was long before the eco-terrorists took over the city’s politics.

There’s a simple solution I advocate for the Congress Ave snarl is as follows:

  • Buses (with the exception of the ‘dillos) should be banned from Congress Ave between 11th and 1st (Chavez) streets put them on the parallel one-way streets on either side where they belong.
  • Congress Ave should be reduced from 6 to 4 lanes with a turning lane, and bicycle lanes (yes, I said it, give the idiots a lane of their own so we don’t get tempted to cream them.)
  • the stupid and pointless 2 mile one-way restriction on 1st Street (Chavez) should be abolished, along with the corresponding tiny one-way restriction on 2nd street.
  • Program a “Green Wave” to keep traffic flowing smoothly, complete with timed protected left turns. (This business of the 5th & 6th street lights never being green at the same time is something way beyond stupid.)

Sooner or later, the powers that be really should figure out that being hostile to the city’s drivers does nothing to discourage them from driving. This is Texas, after all, where the P-O-V (Personally Owned Vehicle) is King. An assertion further proved true by the sudden abundance of Hybrid vehicles in Austin. Even the hypocritical well-to-do Birkenstock wearing, granola munching, Eco-Terrorist hippies are still driving their personal vehicles rather than riding public transit. Take a look in the parking lot & garage at Food Whole if you don’t believe me.

The fact of the matter is, until Austin improves their infrastructure and forces Capital Metro to be not only more reliable as a transportation method (by fixing the terrible scheduling issues and worse hours of operation,) people in Austin are going to drive their own vehicles. Hostility towards drivers by creating or worsening traffic snarls only increases the likely hood that they will someday go postal and do some serious damage.

I’ve opened up the comments as a test to see if I finally get some… I’d love to hear what everyone else has to say on these matters.


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