There is an intersection in Mammoth, a cursed one, some might say, where time moves only slightly faster than a crawl. Lights will change when no one else is at the intersection, leaving a driver sitting at the white line, pondering the meaning of it all as he/she stares at an unchanging red light that glares down at them from above.
The intersection in question, of course, is the one at Minaret Road and Meridian Boulevard, by Sierra Star Golf Course.
The journey to uncovering the mysteries of the intersection, why red lights take forever to change, why greens are feast or famine, why the walk signals make no sense, began earlier this summer.
A reader broached the issue over coffee: What’s the deal with that intersection? Why do I always have to wait a minute or two to get through it?
They explained that it has gotten to the point where it is faster to make a right on red, make a U-turn into oncoming traffic, and then head the direction they wanted to go, than it is to wait for a green.
Intrigued, The Sheet decided to pick up the case.
And so began a descent into madness, a search for the one answer that evaded logic:
“Why the h*** do I have to sit here for a full g******** minute waiting for the light to turn green?”
August 2021, a hot afternoon, no clouds, heavy sun, light breeze. The heat off of the asphalt is making even the mind sweat in confusion.
Armed with a stopwatch, pen and pad, a veritable standoff at high noon waiting in the greens, reds, and yellows of a stoplight.
Approaching from the north (coming from The Woodsite/Main street), the times clocked in as follows:
Green arrow: 14 seconds, solid green only: 42 seconds, red light: just over a minute.
Approach: Meridian, coming from Eagle Lodge. Left arrow: 10.45 seconds, solid green: 21 seconds, 1 minute, 17 seconds of red light.
As I stand on the street corner, writing times on my notepad, a flash of movement from the other side of the street catches my eye.
The Sierra Star bar cart, bottles rattling its approach, appears on the other side of Meridian. The driver leans forward, looking for oncoming traffic.
And without breaking pace, and no crossing signal given, blows straight across the road.
A few minutes later, the same cart emerges from the course on the other side. The driver, head on a swivel, leans forward.
And blows straight across the road.
A pause in traffic. A car pulls up on one side, another pulls up opposite. A third, coming up from Old Mammoth Road, stops to wait to take a left on Minaret. All three remain where they are for nearly 40 seconds.
Instances in which cars wait
for a full light cycle before they get a green are numerous. No intersecting traffic, nothing. Stop and sit.
After nearly an hour at the intersection, one truth was clear: the lights needed to be fixed.
The source who turned The Sheet onto the story said that they’d been told the pressure pads that sense when cars are at the intersection aren’t in the correct place.
A call to the town engineering department reveals that allegation to be untrue.
In fact, it’s the detector loop that needs fixing.
Traffic lights work off of these loops: a car pulls up to an intersection and the detector picks up the signal. It relays that signal to a control box, which then queues that information to time the light to physical cars at the intersection.
In the case of Meridian and Minaret, the controls had been manually set to the maximum time allotted because the detector isn’t working. The Town needs to hire a specialist to come in and fix the problem before the controls can be optimized to represent the actual flow of traffic.
And why isn’t the detector working?
The lines that connect the whole system were cut at some point during work on the intersection and then…weren’t repaired.
And yet, like an insomniac, disheveled Jay Gatsby, (or a sad, oversized moth with an English degree) The Sheet returned.
To time the lights.
Because why, oh why, would we let this go?
The second time around (September 1), the wait times were slightly truncated to under a minute.
But woe still befalls those who arrive at the wrong time.
On two separate instances, drivers pulled up to make a left turn onto Meridian (coming from Main Street) as the arrow turned yellow and were LEFT waiting through a full light cycle.
This time around, golf carts would pull up to a cross walk, hit the button, and after waiting about five seconds for the light turn, would zoom across the intersection.
Then the walk signal would activate for no one, and cars would be stuck unable to make a left once again.
In one instance, Gatsby waited nearly 50 seconds before a walk signal to cross Minaret. Coming back, the wait time was nearly 45 seconds.
While driving away, Gatsby waited to make a left on Meridian and watched a golf cart run the no-cross signal
And on one of the last days of September, the hopeful final return to the intersection. To see if the light had been fixed. The light, this time much thinner in the air, was already beginning to deepen in the early afternoon sun. A cold wind blew across the intersection, scattering leaves and general detritus into the road.
It was like returning to an old friend, one who has stiffed you on a round of drinks more than once, but who remains near, familiar, and above all else, consistent.
Wait times were still in the high-40 seconds, green lights active for 30-40 seconds.
And drivers are still sitting at a red light during that time, watching as naught but the wind moves through the intersection.
Golfers, squeezing all that they can out of the end of the season, either wait patiently or bomb across Meridian as thought the Devil were on their tail. No time to waste when there’s golf to be played.
And late at night, Mammoth’s Finest wait on the Minaret shoulder, waiting to pounce on any motorist foolish enough to attempt to circumvent the unforgiving light patterns.
Will the patterns ever change? Well, this is Mammoth.