Saturday, November 29, 2008

Excessive traffic lights drive man to drink

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is making a sassy liar out of me. I’ve spent the past 15 years or so bragging that I live in Youngstown, Pa., a town with “one stop light, five liquor licenses.”

I love just how much information those six words convey about Youngstown, pop. 937. It says we’re small town America. Just one stop light. No traffic. No congestion. Just folks.

But there’s much more to that part of it. This is the birthplace and residence of Arnold Palmer. He could live anyplace on the planet, but he still chooses to live in tiny Youngstown for about seven months of the year (he flees for Florida in the winter and we don’t hold that climatic wisdom against him).

And it was here that Fred Rogers was born and kept a home until his 2003 death. He modeled his endearing and enduring children’s show after nearby Latrobe where he attended school.

Small towns all over America are the birthplaces of other cultural and historical giants, leading to the popular local jibe, “A lot of smart young men and women have come from here and the smarter they were, the younger they were when they left.”

But we’re not leaving Youngstown, and that’s where the part about the five liquor licenses comes in.

Crowded around our charming little stop light is an authentic and satisfying Mexican restaurant (BYOB), and two fine taverns, Falbo’s Rainbow Inn and the Tin Lizzy, which features not one but three distinct bars. The main floor has a great townie bar on one side and Chef Dato’s upscale restaurant on the other. Upstairs is a posh martini bar with an outdoor deck, and rathskeller has fireplaces, exposed stone walls, a long oak trunk bar top, and a pool table that still provokes the occasional brawl among those disposed to such feistiness. Yep, the Tin Lizzy has it all.

In addition, there’s a great volunteer fireman’s social club and the historic Latrobe Country Club’s just 1/2 mile up Arnold Palmer Drive.

So I’m taking some liberties with the five liquor licenses part, but you get the point. We’re a convivial people. There’s also has a quaint little market and a tiny art gallery. It’s a great spot to call home.

Now PennDOT, in defiance of all logic and fiscal sanity, is going to force me to declare Youngstown a place with “eight stop lights and five liquor licenses,” a ratio that could describe any number of Utah towns filled with equal portions of backsliding Mormons and their teatotaling brethren, for heaven’s sake.

During a still ongoing construction project, workers are installing two confounding stop lights, a total of eight, for each avenue of on-coming traffic in a place where one really proud stop sign would suffice. Understand, there are no turning lanes of funky turns. It’s just cars heading to the four points on the compass.

That means a total of eight stop lights atop four stout poles when one four-sided stop light has been doing the job.

Can anyone calculate the expense? Let’s say each light costs $200 and each pole $1,000. That’s a $5,600 total that is, I’ll wager, on the conservative side of cost.

Maybe a four-sided sign strung between already existing utility poles would cost about $500.

And it’s the felonious assault on common sense that really gets to me.

Who needs to stare at two stop lights to get the message? Maybe if drivers had eyes on the sides of their heads like cattle, I could understand. But there’s no real point in cluttering up the intersection with two lights per lane. Plus the four poles add new sidewalk hazards whenever one our town drunks wobbles off on foot.

Is this sort of unnecessary duplication is being done all over Pennsylvania? All over America? Just how much money is being wasted?

Everyone says we’re about to enter an era where logic will be restored and excess is banished. I hope that’s the case.

And it just galls me that if the gods had to monkey around with Youngstown’s delightful little ratio, they couldn’t have seen fit to enhance the liquor license side of the equation.

You see, reflexively disdaining all forms of abundance would be unnecessarily excessive.

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