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Dear Matthew Alice:

I walk to work via Ash Street, downtown and recently I noticed that there are single red lights pointing the opposite direction to the flow of traffic. They are mounted on the poles that hold the regular traffic lights but point the wrong way. They're at some but not all intersections from First to Seventh Avenues. So far, I've never seen them turned on, but since Ash is one way, I cannot understand what these lights would ever be used for.

-- Lee Spencer, downtown

Ash Street's quaint, tiny traffic signals have the standard red-yellow-green facing the direction of traffic flow and one separate red light on top facing the opposite way. Say you're a cop. A cop back in the late '60s, early '70s, anyway. You're lurking on Ash, around Seventh, looking for bad guys. In your rear-view you see a guy in a Mustang bust the light at Fifth, so you stick out your foot as he wings by, and you haul him to the curb. "Hey, officer, the light was green." Won't work, because you know it wasn't. You could see the red light at Fifth -- the one facing the wrong way. It's coordinated with the right-way-facing red light on that pole. This particular traffic-monitoring system hasn't been used in 25, 30 years, and nobody's replaced the bulbs since then, so the fact that they don't work is no surprise. The traffic lights themselves look like they're straight out of the Keystone Kops era.

Guaranteed Real Inside Poop!

Hi, Matt:

The facing-backwards red-light signal system you talked about [July 8] is still in use, but on several metered freeway on-ramps. They too face the opposite direction so a CHP officer can sit off the freeway 1Ž4-mile down from the on-ramp, watching in his rearview mirror the reverse-facing red light. When he sees the red light on, he knows drivers approaching the metered on-ramp also have a red light. Inside poop: For those who get one of these tickets, the officer can write it one of two ways. (1) running a red light =$271 fine, or (2) failure to obey signal control devices = $77 to $136 fine. It's up to him, so be polite.

-- Ken Harrison, I'll Never Speed Again Comedy Traffic School, Oceanside

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