National Geographic : 1968 Feb
EKTACHROME(C) N.G.S. Monotonous stream of glaring headlights, taillights, and overhead signs can hypnotize a weary driver, even on the Interstate. With this time exposure of himself, photographer Jona than Blair dramatizes the danger on a Los Angeles freeway, part of 1-10, without a median strip. habit of speed on them like a spell. At other times they exit at proper speed, then unthink ingly resume their fast pace on ordinary roads. No one has yet devised a means of coping with "the nut that holds the wheel." I remem ber once watching rush-hour traffic in Detroit on closed-circuit television. A driver in the left lane stopped suddenly; in a series of jerks, he worked his way across the middle lane, then the right, and finally he disappeared up an exit ramp. With each of his moves, the cars behind him screeched to a stop. The shock waves he created still rippled across televised traffic half an hour after the event. Wherever I journeyed on the Interstate System, I noted the growing role of television in controlling traffic as it enters and leaves cities. An experience at Houston was typical. Every weekday morning, the tide of city bound traffic gradually swells on Interstate 45. Between 7 and 8 a.m., it crests in a swirl ing flood of commuters. In a darkened surveillance center along side Interstate 45, I scanned 14 TV screens that monitor a key 61/2 -mile section of the road (page 211). Nearby, a computer whirred and clicked, automatically analyzing the traf fic. Sensing gaps in the pattern, the computer actuated signals regulating the flow of incom 206 ing vehicles from freeway entrance ramps. Suddenly, on one of the TV screens, I saw a car veer out of control, smash into a lamp post, and burst into flame. "Accident on Camera 7!" a technician called. Beside him, a police officer snatched up a telephone and issued swift instructions. Soon a fire truck flashed onto the screen, followed by an ambu lance and a police car. Once upon a time such an accident would have stalled the commuters for hours. Now, mere minutes elapsed before the massed autos resumed their inexorable flow. Houston's computerized control has cut accidents as well as average driving time over this 61/2 mile segment about in half. Signs Will Cost $200,000,000 In cities and countryside alike, Interstate routes with odd numbers run north-south; those with even numbers, east-west. The odd numbers begin on the West Coast with I-5 and end on the East Coast with 1-95. This avoids confusion with the older highways, which begin with U. S. 1 in the East and end with U. S. 101 in the West. The even-numbered Interstates begin in the South with Florida's I-4 and progress northward to Michigan's 1-96 (map, pages 216-17).