Off the Press
September 6, 2011
By Christina Lords
Road turtles don’t grow in Idaho
Everyone told me two things about my move from Moscow, Idaho, to my new home writing for The Issaquah Press and Newcastle News.
One: “Issaquah? You know that’s where Modest Mouse is from, right?”
Two: “You’re going to hate the traffic.”
But on a dark, fateful night in late July, this native-born Idahoan met her newest pesky road foe — and it had nothing to do with learning first hand how ill-advised it is to leave the office here on Front Street at 5:05 p.m. to make it on time to, well, anywhere.
I didn’t know what to call them, these white and yellow traffic bumps in neat little rows held down against their will by thick, black tar-like goo.
All I knew was that these little road turtles were masquerading as my beloved solid painted lines that have so faithfully led me to my chosen destination time and time again.
They’re called Botts’ Dots, and they thrive in states where little snow accumulation occurs.
According to the Department of Transportation in California, where Elbert D. Botts invented these small traffic pimples in 1953, there are more than 20 million of them on California’s roadways.
The dots are now commonly used across the world and in Western states including Washington, Arizona and Nevada, and Southern states such as Alabama and Mississippi.
Botts was working in the Caltrans materials testing lab in Sacramento when he happened upon the idea of using a raised pavement marker — which is what civil engineer-types refer to the buggers as — to help make the painted lines separating lanes last longer.
According to California’s DOT, that added bonus of an audible warning when you’re drifting out of your lane was completely unintentional.
By a legislative mandate in 1966, Botts’ Dots were ultimately placed on all of California’s freeways, except in areas where a snowplow could scrape them off the roadways and possibly lead to untimely road turtle death.
Everyone told me I’d come to despise being bumper to bumper on Interstate 5, or what had been described to me as Satan’s Highway, the 405.
Little did I know I’d have bigger fish to fry with the evils of constantly being lost in a new city with no lines painted on the road to show me the way.
In the night, all of the blips blend together and reflect a confusing maze of almost-illuminated-like pathways I attempt to navigate.
I just hope that especially in busy intersections with what to this girl feels like 743 lanes, my trusty old Kia Sephia with Idaho plates (that I’ve probably now illegally refused to let go of) and I will overcome.