I keep running stop signs. I try not to, really. I mean, besides being totally illegal and expensive if I get caught, it's downright dangerous.
But I'm not used to them, and they're hard to notice.
After Katrina's destructive flood waters were pumped from the city, virtually all of the city's traffic lights went dark. For some, it was a lack of electricity. Others were blown down in the hurricane-force winds, or had their electronic controls fried in the flood. The result was fairly universal: no signals.
The rulebook on this one is pretty clear. When a traffic signal malfunctions and gives no signal, the intersection becomes an all-way stop.
Easier said than done!
Many of my fellow motorists assume that the larger or busier street simply gets right of way by default. The courtesy of the all-way stop took a few days to catch on, and it's a good thing since traffic has been steadily increasing since I came back to town.
But then someone--I don't know if it was FEMA, the National Guard, the city, the state, I wish I knew so I could thank them--someone installed a whole bunch of temporary stop signs at all the formerly signalized intersections. Almost overnight, stop signs were set up on tripods all over New Orleans. Order restored, right?
I'm just not used to stop signs along Carrollton Avenue. I'm just not used to having to stop at a stop sign on St. Charles Avenue. These are busy, wide boulevards. If there's no traffic in front of me and there's no bright red light shining at me, I tend to just roll on through. I've been trying to get a grip on this, but it's difficult. Old habits die hard.
And I guess I'm distracted, too. Usually while driving through destroyed areas of New Orleans, I'm looking at the wreckage of my beautiful city on either side of the road. I'm noticing how high the water marks are on the houses, noticing whether there's a rescue hole torn in the roof, scanning the spray-painted houses to see if they indicate someone was found dead there, noticing which homes and business are being fixed up, and which are still silent and abandoned more than three months after the disaster.
I've been driving around New Orleans since the end of September, but you just don't get used to it. It's just not "natural" to have stop signs on a divided, four-lane roadway. And although I know we're still years from "normal," I keep expecting the electricity to come on, and for the signal lights to function. Just another one of those things we take for granted in the modern city.
So that's my excuse why I don't always see those squat little stop signs. It might not be a good one, but that's all it is. Let's hope I can get a grip on this, before I end up joining the debris piled up on the sides of the road.