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Centerline: The Surprising History of Lane Markings

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
February 9, 2024 3:04 am

Centerline: The Surprising History of Lane Markings

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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February 9, 2024 3:04 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, when it comes to infrastructure that helps keep us safe while we drive, perhaps the greatest cost to benefit ratio on the saving lives front has to be painted lane lines on roads.

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Our American Stories
Lee Habeeb
Our American Stories
Lee Habeeb

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See att.com slash samsung for details. And we continue here with our American stories and our next story comes to us from a man whose YouTube videos are followed by hundreds of thousands of viewers of all ages. He's known simply as the history guy. And we spend a lot of time telling stories about the past and that's every kind of story about the past because if you don't know who you are, well, you can't know who you're going to be. And so much of the story of who we are is the story of the past.

And so that's why we spend a lot of time on history. So here's the history guy with the story he calls Centerline. The surprising history of lane markings. When Americans first started driving automobiles, we really hadn't set up rules or laws to operate the thing safely. In fact, for most of many decades, there wasn't even a line down the center of the road to delineate the lanes. In the fall of 1917, Dr. June McCarroll was driving her Ford Model T down the road near Indio, California when she was run off the road by a truck. She later said of the event, my Model T Ford and I found ourselves face to face with a truck on a paved highway.

It didn't take me long to choose between the sandy berth to the right and the 10-ton truck to the left. And that's when I had my idea, putting a white line down the center of the highways of the country as a safety measure. The California Department of Transportation credits Dr. McCarroll with the idea of painting a center line, but she wasn't actually the first to have that idea. You know, today that line down the middle, the hundreds of thousands of miles of roads around the world is so common. It makes such common sense, it's hard to imagine roads without them, but the history of delineating lanes on roads is actually surprising. And it deserves to be remembered. There are some early examples of lane marking.

While Jubilee years, years of forgiveness, are mentioned in the Bible, chapter of Leviticus, the tradition in the Western Catholic Church was started by Pope Boniface VIII in 1300 A.D. So many people, as many as 200,000, came to Rome for the event that Boniface had a continuous line painted on the middle of each road in Rome to help manage the crowds. The line did not, however, denote the direction of traffic, but the type. Horses and carts would be on one side, foot traffic on the other. In 1600 A.D., a road near Mexico City used lighter colored stones to denote a center line. Markings of a center line were used sporadically on bridges in the U.S. and elsewhere in the 19th century.

New York City was using pavement lines to mark crosswalks as early as 1911. Conventions for the direction of travel developed with time and were largely set by the 19th century, although the world still not come to an agreement whether traffic should move to the left or to the right. Early traffic tended to have the traveler on the left, a tradition possibly derived so that your sword hand would face the road in case the person on the other side was an enemy. America took the convention of traffic moving on the right, a tradition which developed in the 18th century, to make it easier to pass large agricultural wagons where the driver would control the horse team from the left rear horse, leaving his right hand free to control the whip. It was easier for the driver to see that he was clearing traffic that was passing to his left. Keep to the right laws were passed in both France and the United States in 1792. England, however, continued the tradition of traffic moving on the left, which was codified in the Highway Act of 1835, and is still followed in most of the former British Empire. But roads, for the most part, still did not have marked lanes, but the advent of the automobile and greater speeds made the need for such markings more apparent. Somewhat surprisingly, the move to mark those lanes appeared to originate in the United States.

This became a sensation in the States. Between 1907 and 1917, they essentially replaced horses and carriages as the primary mode of transportation, a transition that was so quick that it outpaced society's ability to adjust. In 1910, there were only five cars per 1,000 people in the United States.

But by 1920, that number had increased 17-fold to 86 per 1,000. When the Model T was introduced in 1908, it sold for $825. By 1912, the Model T Runabout sold for $525, less than the average annual income in America.

And the price continued to drop to a mere $290 in 1927. Cars became ubiquitous very soon after they were introduced. They became faster and faster, and paved roadways proliferated in an attempt to keep up.

By 1918, there were over 10,000 motor vehicle deaths in the U.S. a year. With many innovations, safety precautions and law systems were slow to keep up with the pace of technological change. It took a single decade for cars to become the primary mode of transportation in the United States, and the speeds men could now go with ease produced problems that had never been considered properly. In 1901, Connecticut became the first state in the country to institute a speed limit on motor vehicles, 12 miles an hour in town, 50 miles an hour on rural roads. Cars could go much faster than that. In 1911, a world record had been set by Bob Berman at Daytona Beach by going 141 miles an hour. While most cars couldn't go that fast, they had turn trips that took days, in a matter of mere hours. One of the greatest challenges was lanes. With wagons and carriages, muddy roads developed ruts that were easy to follow.

And while accidents were not trivial, they moved slowly enough that it was comparatively simple to avoid someone else on the road. While there is some disagreement, the first appearance of lane markings in the U.S. has been traced to Michigan, according to the Michigan Department of Transportation. The first line was painted in 1911 on River Road in Wayne County, Michigan, put there at the instigation of Edward N. Hines. Edward was a major innovator in road safety, spearheading the Good Roads Organization to improve public roads in Michigan in the 1890s. Hines also built the first stretch of concrete road in the world in 1909, and served on the Wayne County Board of Roads when it was created in 1906, alongside Henry Ford himself. Hines was said to have the original idea of painting a line down the middle of the road when he saw a milk truck go by that was leaking milk, and thus leaving a white line behind him as it passed.

And while the idea has become since a bedrock of traffic control, it took some time for it to catch on nationally. In 1917, in addition to Dr. McCarroll, several other people had the idea to paint lines, apparently independently of one another, in three different states. In Michigan, Kenneth Ingalls Sawyer, as engineer superintendent of Marquette County, painted a white center line along a dead man's curve. In Oregon, Deputy Sheriff Peter Rexford came up with the idea while on a bus driving on a dark rainy night. The county refused to fund the project, so Chief Deputy Martin Pratt paid for the paint that was later painted on the Columbia River Highway between Crown Point and Multnomah Falls in April 1917. It was later that fall that Dr. McCarroll was run off the road near Indio, California.

Dr. McCarroll holds unique place in the story, however, because her work went beyond just coming up with the idea. When the local Chamber of Commerce was uninterested in her plan, McCarroll painted the line herself. She instigated a letter writing campaign that would help convince the state of California to adopt the measure universally in November 1924, and the State Highway Commission painted the lines. But at the time, there were few, if any, standards or guiding principles for markings, and where those standards or guiding principles did exist, they were on a local level, and there was no coordination between local agencies. In 1930, the National Conference on Street and Highway Safety published a manual on street traffic signs, signals, and markings. The manual recommended pavement lane markings in a number of cases, for example on curves of less than 600 foot radius, and also on hill crests, where the view ahead is insufficient to prevent overtaking the passing in safety. Center lines were also recommended on streets with high traffic both directions, and streets wide enough to have more than one lane either direction. Lines were recommended to be at least 4 inches wide, and be white or yellow on bituminous pavement, and black or white on concrete. The use of black lane markings became less popular during the Second World War, when black markings could not be seen while driving under blackout conditions. The use of broken lines to note places where lane changing is permitted was not defined until a new manual was produced in 1948.

The original purpose of the dashed lines was to save cost by reducing the amount of paint needed to mark lanes. The length of the lines and gaps was not defined, but the manual said it should be well proportioned. The manual further noted that on rural highways, a commonly used standard of 15 foot segments with 25 gaps was normal.

No national standard was adopted until 1978. Research shows that people tend to underestimate the length of the broken lines, with people surveyed most commonly assuming that the lines are 2 feet long, with equal gaps in between. In fact, since 1978 the broken lines in the US are standardized to be 10 feet long, with a 30 foot gap in between.

Thus every time your car passes a new dashed line, it has traveled 40 feet, far further than most people assume. For years, states had local rules for what colors of paint to use on the roads for different purposes, and especially heated was the debate between whether white or yellow paint should be used to divide highways. By November 1954, 43 years after the first central line was painted, 47 of the then 48 states had decided to use white as the dividing line, and Oregon, the last state, capitulated later that year. In 1958, the Interstate US Bureau of Public Roads adopted white lines to divide lanes. But in 1971, the Federal Highway Administration required now that all center lines on two-way roads be painted yellow, while white center lines were used to demarcate lanes of traffic going in the same direction, the now familiar system that we use today. The history of painting center line road markers tells us that a few people with a good idea, willing to make a small change, could make, well, a large difference. Today, both Edward Hines and Kenneth Ingalls Sawyer are in the Michigan Transportation Hall of Honor, and the section of road on which Dr. McCarroll first painted her white line is now named in her honor, the Dr. June McCarroll Memorial Freeway. That was the history guy you've been listening to, and if you want more stories of forgotten history, subscribe to his YouTube channel, The History Guy. History deserves to be remembered.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2024-02-09 04:45:44 / 2024-02-09 04:51:29 / 6

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