Messing With The Traffic

The south part of downtown Columbus is like a traffic engineer’s playground. It seems like somebody is always messing with the streets, bridges, and access ramps, throwing unexpected curve balls at motorists and pedestrians alike.

The latest initiative is part of a long-term effort to fundamentally change how people leaving downtown get on I-70 East. For years drivers came down Third Street (one way heading south, throughout downtown) and could turn right onto a ramp onto 70 West or left onto a ramp onto 70 East. The ramps were short for freeway access, and the merging happened in a congested area in which I-71 also intersected with I-70. So some time ago traffic engineers closed the 70 East ramp off Third Street and devised a plan to route people down little-used Fulton Street to access the freeway. Now that plan has reached fruition.

There’s just one problem: the grand plan has changed Fulton Street between Third and Fourth Streets from one way heading west to one way heading east. That isn’t great for those of us in German Village, because it doesn’t allow us to use Fulton to access 70 West, but it has really messed with the heads of downtown drivers and turned the entrance to German Village into an orange cone zone with an extensive and baffling array of signs about signal changes, lane changes, street direction changes, and detours. Because many drivers are on autopilot on their commutes, following the same routes they’ve followed for years, we’ve seen people heading the wrong way on Fulton, accidents, traffic backups and snarls, and lots of confusion.

At some point drivers will work this out, I expect, and the cones and signs will go away as traffic adjusts to its new flow. But then the traffic engineers will run their hands together with evil glee and throw a new wrench into the commuting machine, and the cones and signs—and rampant driver confusion—will reappear. That’s just the way traffic engineers roll.