Human brains are kind of strange things, especially when it comes to tasks like driving. We’re really surprisingly good at driving, considering that nothing in our evolution could have predicted that we’d need to process visual information and react to it physically at speeds of a mile-a-minute, yet we somehow can pull it off just fine. At the same time, it’s remarkable how much we rely on visual cues like road lines and markings. When those visual cues are disordered, even if rationally we can understand that something is off, and we can see what should be right, just the presence of the misplaced marker manages to make everything really confusing. A great demonstration of this happened on Interstate 95 around Jacksonville, Florida, when a 23-mile long yellow line appeared on the highway, weaving among lanes and generally being confusing.
The line looks pretty much just like a conventional yellow road marking-type of line, though it’s just one line, not a double yellow or a broken yellow or some combination. Just a yellow line, straight but meandering among lanes with the ruthless abandon of a flock of starlings.
Local news coverage has been predictably delighted, with news trucks following the line from where it starts at the base of the Acosta Bridge to where it ends, at the gates of a company in an industrial park called Acme Barricades:
It’s probably worth noting that Acme Barricades lists among its services Thermoplastic Pavement Marking and Profiled Pavement Marking, and Road Paint striping, any of which could have been the method used to lay down 23 miles of yellow stripe.
So far no company, Acme included, has taken credit for the Great Yellow Stripe, but is it really that hard to figure out? It leads right to a company with the equipment to paint road lines? Maybe someone forgot to turn off the line-spigot on the back of the truck? I’m just wildly guessing here, not accusing anyone of anything, mind you.
I mean, this could also be a set-up from a rival road striping firm? Does Acme Barricades have any enemies? Did they send one too many defective pairs of rocket shoes to a certain coyote?
As you can see from the videos, the line was at the very least confusing to drivers, and would likely play havoc with automated lane-keeping and semi-automated driving systems. It’s remarkable to think about how something as minor as an unexpected line of color can cause so many problems, but that’s just how it works.
The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is in for a tricky time as they figure out how to remove the line. Painting over it may simply make it even more visually prominent, for example.
FDOT Community Outreach Manager Hampton Ray was asked by news outlets of the department’s plans:
“We’re going to have an operation, where we take a street sweeper, with a wire brush, and we will be going and doing our best to dislodge some of the yellow paint from the roadway. We do not expect this to be the end-all solution.”
Man, what a mess. I tried reaching out to Acme Barricades, but got no response. I wonder if everyone in Acme Barricades was just told to lay low until the shit blows over?