Noise, gas prices and roadkill
I do sympathize with those complaining about the highway noise. Noise, especially if it’s outside our control, is stressful. Studies with children show noise it can lead to a learned helplessness. Studies also find that women have a lower tolerance threshold, and we all vary in our abilities to tune out background noise. Loud, unpredictable noises (horns, tires squealing) will trigger a startle response in almost anyone. We’re hardwired to go from sleep to “unthinking fight for life” mode almost instantly. This response also explains why it’s best to let sleeping dogs lie, unless you want your nose bitten off. I have less sympathy for those complaining about high gas prices. It’s pretty cheap historically when adjusted for inflation and why not get a smaller car, try to live closer to work, etc. Bigger houses on cheaper land come with a price to pay in commuting hours and expenses.I know I should focus on practical solutions like billion dollar monorails, but both of these common complaints – noise and gas prices – could be helped by driving a bit slower. Last year’s experience with the sinkhole reconstruction, lower speed limits and absolute refusal of drivers to slow down, even with workers and State Patrol cars everywhere, convinces me it’s an impossibility. It would be an assault on our personal freedom and impatience! I can dream, though.I’m concerned about roadkill. Every morning the sight of some deer or elk’s once graceful legs splayed impossibly awkwardly beneath a mangled carcass ruins my day, and I’m only a third party. It’s definitely ruined the life and/or car of those more directly involved. Speed kills, where wildlife is concerned. Very few bodies litter the slower-paced frontage roads.A few years back, the state Division of Wildlife and road crews left the deer on the side of the road. A dead body had a much larger effect on the brake pedal than all those “Warning Deer!” signs we routinely ignore. By the end of the summer, there were corpses everywhere and the disturbing evidence of our carnage had to go. Dead deer, elk, bears are not supposed to be part of the great American road trip-holiday. It’s bad for business, probably the same excuse truckers give for hauling through Vail at 70-plus at dusk and dawn when the deer are most active. Time is money.Nationally, a combination of rising deer, elk and moose populations and our increasing mileage is leading to an increased awareness of roadkill. In 1995 there were 1 million car-deer collisions alone. This killed 211 people, injured 29,000 and cost $1 billion. On average deer-vehicle collisions kill more people than all the commercial airline, train and bus accidents combined in a year.The Senate version of the transportation bill requires state transportation dapartments to consult with wildlife agencies at the initial stages of road planning to work out how to minimize the dangers. There are several new technologies being tried in North America that could be used here. In one elk herd in Washington, the eight mature females that are the leaders all received electronic collars. These collars trigger flashing lights on the highway when they get within a half-mile. So far, drivers have slowed down and are more aware with quicker reaction times.Maine has installed infrared beams that initiate “Warning Moose!” signs when the beam is broken by a tall animal. In Banff National Park, the Trans Canada Highway has used a mixture of fences, 22 underpasses (preferred by black bears and cougars) and 150-foot-wide overpasses (favored by grizzlies, elk, deer, moose and wolves). Also, Kootenay Park is trying infrared cameras that can see through rain, snow and fog to trigger warning signs when wildlife wanders too close to the road. Banff’s reduced its roadkill by 95 percent, but the weak link in all the warning signs so far is us – the intelligent ones. Human drivers, especially truckers, often refuse to slow down. I’d like to see the state Transportation Department’s plans for I-70’s upgrade address roadkill and how many of the millions will go to making the highway safer for both humans and animals and less of a Berlin Wall that effectively cuts our animals and forest lands in half.Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a weekly column for the Daily.