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October, 2008


by Valerie

In my quest for photos of our local fauna, I make weekly or biweekly trips to several favorite locations, all within 15 miles of where I live. The Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, Wild-Connections (a butterfly farm), Zilker Gardens, and Hornsby Bend Wastewater Treatment Plant are on the list. Most people might find a sewage plant to be an unlikely destination for wildlife watching, but Hornsby, with its location along the Colorado River and ripe ponds, boasts some of the best birding habitat in our area. Besides birds, the area is rife with other vertebrates and supports unimaginable numbers of spiders and insects.

The route that I take to get there has an unusual feature: it necessitates ten left lane merges in a row. The first few times I drove there, I was more concerned with just watching for signs and getting the directions right, but later I noticed this odd anomaly. What are the chances that a single 13 mile stretch of road would include so many lane changes in the same direction?

The trip starts out normally enough, with a few right and left turns through the neighborhoods. The notable part begins when I turn onto an access road for the highway that will take me across town to the east side, where the aromatic facility has been strategically located so as not to offend the sensibilities of the majority of Austin's residents.

After making that last right turn, I merge left two lanes in order to enter the ramp that will get me "up to speed" on the limited access highway aptly called the Ben White Speedway. This road used to be a very congested commercial route, with many lights, a speed limit of about 35 MPH, and block after block of shopping centers and other businesses. At that time it was simply called Ben White. Once the highway was elevated and ramps added, the speed limit was set at 65 MPH, but the traffic is usually not very heavy, so the temptation to go a little faster is high.

I then make my third left merge, which has to be done quickly, as the ramp has no extra distance to accommodate this action. There was simply not enough room for such an unnecessary safety feature in the eyes of the masterminds who designed this marvel of structural engineering.

The lane I am then in must absorb the next ramp's traffic, so I take the first opportunity to merge left into the middle of three lanes. A mile or so later, the right lane, with plenty of warning signs, ends. I can only guess that many drivers cannot read or are not looking at the road, as they seem truly surprised at this development and the fact that they should at some time have made a merge to the adjoining lane.

Of course, I make room for them by merging again to the left (this is now my fifth such merge). The addition of lanes from another route on the left gives four to choose from at this point. I merge left again, simply to get out of the way of those who must exit and enter on the right as I cross town, as well to avoid two more vanishing lanes.

The bliss of a controlled access highway ends a few miles later, creating the expected bottleneck of a major intersection. I have found it advantageous to move over to the far left lane at this point; it has fewer large trucks, a considerable factor as the east area of town is a Mecca for construction of all types and its associated large vehicular traffic.

Even if I didn't want to move over to allow for slower vehicles, the lane I was in eventually becomes an exit only for the airport. Not only that, but so does the one I'm in, so I move over once again as soon as another two lanes join from the left. If you have been keeping track, you will note that this is left merge number eight.

The middle lane works fine for a mile or so, but then I must make a left turn, which means two more lane changes to get into the correct queue at the light. There - that makes a total of ten left lane changes before I turn.

It doesn't stop there. After turning left, I cross the Colorado River and the entrance to Hornsby Bend is, you guessed it, on the left. Once inside the gates, I make another left turn to get to the pond area, and then another left to go around them to where I park. It might sound like I am going in ever tighter spirals, but actually the roads sometimes curve to the right, compensating for the high number of left turns. I park by a small birding shelter along one pond, on the left.

So what does all this mean? All these left lane changes and left turns must have a hidden significance. I have finally figured it out. Making biweekly pilgrimages to the local sewage treatment plant is just plain GAUCHE!

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