Chickens and road design

This post has been in my “Drafts” folder since July. I’ve been waiting to shoot video of some roadside chickens that I know live on Branciforte Road just north of Santa Cruz, California.

Whenever I go that way with my camera, however, they’re never to be seen. Maybe they got smooshed by passing traffic?

I know next to nothing about raising poultry, but I’ve seen these front yard free range chickens a few times while cycling through the countryside and they somehow seem to know to stop at the pavement edge.

I hoped to catch video of the chickens with traffic buzzing past in close proximity. I never got that opportunity, but today’s viral video of ducks and her duckling crossing a busy Toronto highway fills the bill exactly. As you can see, Mrs Duck doesn’t know to stop at the pavement’s edge.

Why did the ducklings cross the road? Probably to get to home or food or to escape predators or because of habitat destruction.

Ducks and chickens aren’t the only critters to fall a fowl of fast traffic. Over on Google Plus, several cyclists use the hashtag #zombieraccoon when discussing bike issues because of the prevalence of creepy dead woodland creatures on the road. It’s not unusual to run into gruesome sights like this in my part of the country. I saw this lovely deer on El Rancho Road in Santa Cruz County about five weeks ago.

Dead Deer

I write all of this as an introduction to Sarah in San Francisco, who brilliantly compares designing for chickens to designing roads for people in her introductory essay at Soft Hit Post.

Like a child drawing a chalk line through an ant hill and expecting the ants to keep themselves to one side or the other, planners regularly slap multi lane highways straight through the middle of long-established villages and then watch in amazement, brooding and clucking as not only chickens, but all manner of other personalities flock to the new highways in droves, seemingly unable ever to finally decide which side of the road they want to be on.

It’s no secret traffic engineers’ lives would be a lot easier if chickens would just keep to whichever block they were on when the roads were installed, straying from it only while donning the clever disguise of an automobile.

And what is a “soft hit post”? Soft hit posts are those flexible plastic poles stuck on the side of the road to keep auto drivers from straying out of their lanes. Except, of course, they do stray, and the posts are hit, and because of the sheer inevitability of these straying motorists, U.S. Federal law says posts along the side of the road must break away and not have lethal consequences for these straying chicken slayers because accidents are never ever the motorists’ fault. This is also why it’s illegal to reinforce rural mailboxes with concrete. Somehow, though, solid metal and concrete posts are perfectly okay to restrict entry at bicycle trails, but I digress. Sarah became a human soft hit post when she was hit from behind and launched in unanticipated directions.

So now, she offers at a little feedback from a soft hit post.

One Comment

  1. I’m honored by your shoutout and intro to my blog! A fine bit of investigative reporting too, as I haven’t yet mentioned my name on my blog (only because I haven’t gotten around to setting up my personalized alias yet because I’m new to all these blogging standards and technologies. (Like pingbacks. Who knew! What an awesome invention)). My incidental anonymity has already caused confusion for at least one person who guesses my name is Bill, so well done on zeroing right in on my real name on the first try.

    I couldn’t bear to watch that duck video all the way through. I had to skip to the end immediately to be sure they were all OK. If any of the little ones were lost, I don’t want to know about it! Don’t tell me! I’m just going to assume they all made it across just fine and barely noticed how close their miniature little lives came to being microbiographies. I couldn’t take it after seeing a pigeon’s head freshly smashed into the pavement earlier today on the curb outside of House of Bagels. At least the pigeon died suddenly and while happily feasting on a fresh bagel from one of the more reputable bagel joints in town. I thought briefly about taking a picture of the poor guy’s smashed-up head against the colorful and contrasting backdrop of the House of Bagels sign, but I became self conscious and then dismissed the idea as morbid. I now deeply regret my hesitation.

    I have been surprised how many people don’t know what a soft hit post is, but I guess the whole point of them is that they’re never too noticeable, assertive, or in your way, and they all pretty much look alike and blend uniformly into the background. On that fateful day in June, as my ass and elbow careened into the pavement, followed closely by my bike together with its exploded rear wheel, I know I felt a tremendous sense of relief that I hadn’t hurt that person’s car or slowed them down apparently in the least. I built that rear wheel myself specifically so it could absorb an impact without causing too much inconvenience to any motorists who might need to travel through it.

    One thing I’ve noticed about soft hit posts lately: All of the ones that have been there a while appear to have been hit at least once. They must think the world is incredibly unfair.

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