Even the kid who slept through most of driver’s ed knows, in North America, if you see double-yellow lines in the road, you can’t drive over them to pass a car (no matter how slow its driving)! Those lines have saved lives for decades — ignoring them can have big consequences.
And because every driver on the continent understands the very clear meaning behind two yellow lines, people were baffled by a big change made to them throughout New Jersey. There, officials took some artistic liberties with some of the cities’ double yellows, and drivers wondered if their meanings changed altogether…
When drivers in Mahwah, New Jersey, first spotted the blue streak splitting a roadway’s double yellow lines in October 2016, many were rightfully confused. It was like the very rules of the road changed overnight and no one bothered to tell them.
After all, the double yellow line carries a serious warning to drivers: don’t pass this, or you are putting other drivers — and yourself — in serious danger. The sudden appearance of the blue line was like adding a few new lights to an intersection: it was confusing and potentially dangerous!
What did the new blue lines mean? Were they marking carpool lanes? Were they designed for handicapped drivers? Just when curiosity about the blue lines peaked for those out of the loop, officials made other changes to the roadways…
In Dumont, New Jersey, for instance, workers painted a fat red line down the middle of one road’s double yellows. Then, not far from the red line, officials split a double yellow with a green line.
Dumont Volunteer Fire Department / Facebook
With all these new colors splitting New Jersey’s double yellow lines, visitors and some local drivers just wanted to know what hidden meaning they were missing out on. The answer was simple — and powerful.
See, year after year, Mahwah, New Jersey — a city of 25,890 people — ranked among the safest cities in the state. One local woman recognized that, and she wanted to celebrate and honor those responsible.
Local officials loved the idea, and shortly thereafter, the first blue line in Mahwah went right outside the city’s police station. The simple line honored police officers, and it set off a chain reaction across New Jersey — and a controversial debate.
Because after blue lines cut through the double yellows in Mahwah, they started turning up in other cities across the state. The Mantua police department, for instance, after seeing the lines in their district, had this to say…
North New Jersey
“The blue line…is a symbolic reference to law enforcement,” the department wrote on Facebook. “It describes the concept that the police are what stand between the victimizers and would-be victims.” Their message continued.
City of Spokane
“Our hope is that it serves as a reminder that we are here to help and will do what we can to intervene to keep you and your loved ones safe. With all the turmoil in the country…although not perfect, [we] do our best to accomplish our mission.”
This message caught on, and soon, those red lines showed up for firefighters, and green lines showed up celebrating first responders and medics. All was well until the U.S. Federal Highway Administration (FHA) involved itself.
The federal bureaucrats contacted New Jersey officials and, citing the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways, called the lines illegal. Markings celebrating police officers illegal? Talk about irony.
An FHA spokesperson had this to say: “We appreciate the impact of expressing support for law enforcement officers and value their contributions to society…”
“However,” the FHA continued, “there are many appropriate and fitting ways to recognize service to the public that do not involve the modification of a traffic control device, which can put the road user at risk due to misinterpretation of its meaning.”
The feds elaborated, stating that — for the sake of clarity and uniformity — blue can denote handicap parking spots and only handicap parking spots. Following the FHA’s statement, dissenting voices grew louder.
A contingent of blue line opposition argued the lines were not only unsafe but a waste of taxpayer money. As one blue-line critic put it, “I would say pass on the blue line in favor of a community event.” Of course, this only galvanized the blue line supporters.
Hans Gutknecht / Los Angeles Daily News
New Jersey resident Stephen Soria, for instance, dismissed the idea drivers would be confused by the lines. “In the middle of the street in front of the police station, I wouldn’t think for a second it’s a handicapped spot,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mahwah Mayor Bill Laforet denied the blue lines were a waste of tax money. The town used employees already on staff to do the painting, and the blue paint was leftover from the city’s efforts to paint handicap spots.
Furthermore, the mayor said the lines would stay until, essentially, the feds threw him in a prison cell. “Mayors don’t usually do things that are also illegal,” he said. “But if you want to call this line illegal, that’s all right with me.”
Finally, the Mahwah police chief defended the line, too. The blue line “means a lot to our officers,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s a game-changer, but it has an impact. I don’t think someone sitting in an office in Washington or Trenton may get that.”
To put the issue to rest, New Jersey’s U.S. Congressional Representatives — Republican Leonard Lance and Democrat U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, below — introduced a bill that allowed towns to paint roadways to honor public servants.
But by the end of 2018, it seemed the bill died somewhere on Capitol Hill. Meanwhile, the blue line supporters and the blue line detractors still hadn’t reached consensus. Towns with the lines in roadways offered no plans to remove them.
What do you think of these alterations to New Jersey’s double yellow lines? Are they a worthy show of admiration? Or an accident waiting to happen?
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