Loren Carter (better known as LK) was obsessed with traffic. It was his job. He had started his career as a street car driver and, after 22 years, was responsible for routing and scheduling all Birmingham bus routes.
He made some changes that mattered. For years, the buses ran in circular routes on either the east or the west side of town. The logic was simple: The buses were there to take you downtown. It was pretty much assumed that nobody in East Lake had any business in Ensley, and vice versa. So if you wanted to go past downtown, you had to get a transfer and stand downtown waiting on one of the buses that served the other side of town.
Dad never thought that made much sense, so he sat down at his big drafting table at the transit company and re-drew the routes to go from one end of town to the other. At last, you could ride from Huffman to Wylam without stopping.
But his greatest source of pride was the turn lane. It seems that in those days, traffic in Birmingham ground to a halt every time somebody had to make a left turn, because that vehicle blocked the left lane until it had an opening to turn. Dad was especially aware of this because many of these vehicles were buses. The city was growing, and it was turning into a serious problem.
On a visit to Memphis, Dad had seen a dedicated lane in the middle of the street that allowed cars to get out of the flow of traffic while they waited for an opening to turn left. It just happened that one of his buddies was Birmingham traffic engineer Ben Robinson. Dad called Ben one day and said, “Let’s go to Memphis. I want to show you something.” They drove up there, and Dad pointed to a turn lane and said, “See? We need to do that.”
A week later, Birmingham’s first turn lane was installed on First Avenue.
Years later, I’d grown up (more or less) into a skeptical Birmingham News reporter. One day I had to interview Robinson and asked him about the tale, about which I had developed my doubts. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Lemme tell you about that, son. See, it used to be that any time you turned left, you held up everybody behind you. Then your old man called one day and said, ‘Let’s go to Memphis…’”
Birmingham has always had its problems, but every now and then, somebody has a notion and makes things better.