Tom Clyde: Summit County traffic rules
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September 1, 2017
My grand-nephew married an immigrant girl. She's lived all over the world in places I couldn't find on a map. She's a great person, and fits right in. Part of her cultural adjustment has been learning to drive. In all the other places she lived, driving had not been a necessity. Learning to drive is probably a little daunting under any circumstances, but throw in signs and rules in a language that isn't your primary language (though she speaks about six), and then try to measure the distance you can park from a fire hydrant and convert it to meters — well, it's been a challenge.
She had it pretty well figured out until a recent trip to Summit County. It was supposed to be easy. Shopping at the Outlet Mall, lunch on Main Street, a afternoon in Park City and then out to the ranch in Woodland. Overall, it was a success, but she noticed that the traffic rules she had been operating under didn't seem to apply here. The rules of the road seem pretty consistent to her between Provo and Ogden, and even on a trip to southern Utah. And then she crossed into Summit County, and everything was different.
For starters, she noticed that in Summit County, red lights are mere suggestions. Stopping is optional in the Kimball Junction area. How many cars can go through the red light? Well, all of them. They just keep going until somebody, usually a tourist who doesn't know any better, stops. If it were up to the locals, nobody would ever stop for the red light. "Oh, you mean like Italy?"
The speed limits are also relative. Some drivers strictly adhere to the posted limits, and drive in the left lane, trying to impose strict adherence on others as a point of moral clarity. Somehow exasperating other drivers is part of "traffic calming." Subarus and Priuses, mostly. But German cars are exempt from the speed limits. She understood the part about German cars being exempt. That seems to be universal.
For starters, she noticed that in Summit County, red lights are mere suggestions. Stopping is optional in the Kimball Junction area. How many cars can go through the red light? Well, all of them.
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The amount of space that is appropriate for a lane change is also variable in Summit County. In most places, you expect about a car length of open space before the car in front of you changes lanes. But here, if your car is a Euro-color, you only need the width of a coat of paint between you and the car you cut off of when changing lanes.
Four-way stops are a challenge. For example, if four cars arrive at a 4-way stop simultaneously, who has the right of way? In most of the world, you sort of work it out with eye contact. The general rule in Summit County is that the most expensive car assumes the right of way. But if you are inside the City Limits, the electric car goes first (well, second after the guy on the mountain bike just bombs through the intersection without slowing down).
Four way stops are entirely different in Kamas. In Kamas, the truck with the highest suspension lift has the right of way. In Coalville, there is a complicated system based on ancestry, and only the locals know if a Blonquist-by-marriage yields to an Ovard-by-birth. If you don't know that, you have no business driving there. No wonder we are building more roundabouts instead of normal intersections.
This summer has seen more than our share of traffic cones around construction. In a sort of puzzling decision, UDOT decided it was a good ideal to work on routes 224, 248, 32, 35 and 40 all at the same time. In the 30 miles from my house to Park City, there were times this summer when I was always within 100 yards from a traffic cone, and never out of sight of a flagger. There would be miles of barricades set up around one guy who was taking a smoke break from installing a sign on the shoulder. The numerous iterations of lane striping would lead you off a cliff if taken literally. So under Summit County driving rules, people just ran slalom gates through the traffic cones, and went where they felt like it.
The driving regulations here are confusing enough, but for real sport, try to park. If it takes you less than an hour to figure if you can park in an open spot, what it will cost you, how long you can stay there, and how to work the pay station, you must be doing something wrong. People of my generation should always travel with a 10-year old who can figure out how to work the parking meter. I spent about 20 minutes trying to pay for parking the other day and ended up with a Diet Coke and a Milky Way instead of a parking pass.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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