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World ends at red lights

I’ve seen it all before, and I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s like the fifth horseman of the apocalypse, the destruction of the universe, the big crunch.

It’s the end of civilization, as I’ve known it.

Well, actually it’s more like the beginning of civilization, which means it’s the end of a simpler, pleasurable, stress-free life.



With the Colorado Department of Transportation’s recent announcement that a traffic light will appear this summer at the intersection of highways 9 and 285 in Fairplay, the world will come to an end in Park County – a world of skies empty of red lights, where 99 percent of the time traffic flows like a dam-free Western river.

But like a dam-free river, a stoplight-free highway in the High Country is fast fading into the stuff of legend.



For 10 years now, I’ve been driving through Park County on my daily routine without one offensive traffic light halting my forward progress with its red, sinister, car-stopping eye.

And since there has been – up until now – just one traffic light in the 2,200 square miles of Park County, and it’s located near Denver, it’s been a wonderful run.

Almost nothing is better than passing the last traffic light in Breckenridge and finding yourself on the open road, surrounded by nature, without one red light to interfere with your mountain experience. (Even though sometimes the open road clogs up with Texans and motor homes, it’s still pretty open when you compare it to Silverthorne or Frisco.)

If the traffic light were just an inconvenience to me, this would still be a tragedy of epic proportion, but what most people don’t realize is that it can also cause tremendous property damage and physical injury.

Don’t believe me? Then you’ve obviously never heard of the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

The Outer Banks are a long stretch of barrier islands on the North Carolina coast that are home to two main roads. There is the highway, complete with traffic jams, stoplights and a 55-mph speed limit. The other road, however, is the beach road, and it is different.

Hugging the ocean, the road retains the smell of the sea and salt. The speed limit is 25 mph, which keeps traffic down, and for a while, there were no traffic lights.

Then some bureaucrat needing to turn left and not wanting to wait – much like our Front Range visitors – pushed through a new, and much needed, project.

Oh, if we could only turn back the clock, but I guess it’s not meant to be. Eventually they installed a light, and that’s when the trouble started.

The people living on the Outer Banks before the stoplight used its creation as a measure of time. They separated the residents and tourists on the islands into two categories. There were the Before the Light people (BLs) and After the Light people (ALs).

Eventually, the BLs told stories of how life was better before the ALs and the traffic light arrived to ruin the picturesque beach. Then the BLs, thinking they were superior to the ALs, harassed the newcomers every chance they got.

It was a sad sight to see BLs waiting for an AL to stop at the traffic light before the catcalling began.

“Hey AL,” they’d yell. “Show us your brake lights.”

Eventually, tensions escalated, names were called and food was thrown. That’s when I hit the road, but I still struggle with post-traumatic-stress disorder every time I see a stoplight.

If they erect a stoplight in Fairplay, I guarantee by the end of the summer, you’ll be hearing conversations like, “Well son, before the traffic light changed everything, the rivers here flowed with gold and the girls frolicked through the fields wearing nothing but their cowboy boots. But that was before that traffic light. Yep, that traffic light and those people ruined everything.”

Stop the madness.

Andrew Gmerek is a regular Friday columnist. He wrote this column while waiting at Summit County stoplights.


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