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Why Are Road Partitions Called Jersey Barriers?

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NYC Dot Flickr

Most people take the partitions that divide the traffic on U.S. highways for granted. But these seemingly simple barriers are actually deceptively sophisticated: Their designs have been well-tested and tweaked to ensure driver safety on both sides of the road in the event of a crash. The most common name for these ubiquitous concrete slabs is “Jersey Barriers”—but why?

Concrete road barriers were first used in California in 1946; they replaced the standard (but weak) wood beam guardrails on the treacherous Grapevine section of the state’s Ridge Route highway—the home of the original “Dead Man’s Curve”—where the roads had a 6 percent downgrade that led to many head-on collisions. Then, in 1949, the state of New Jersey adopted comparable concrete structures and installed preventative parabolic median barriers on the Jugtown Mountain section of US Route 22 in Hunterdon County, which had a similarly hazardous downgrade to the Ridge Route highway.

These original barriers measured 19 inches high and 30 inches wide, with 2 inches buried in the road to provide stability. Each was anchored to the roadbed by steel dowels and consisted of a 2-inch thick outer layer of white concrete to make it more visible at night. Though the initial barriers were somewhat successful in reducing the impact of collisions, New Jersey state highway engineers continued to tinker with the design, creating progressively larger prototypes based on amounts of observed accidents (as opposed to performing controlled crash testing). Eventually, in 1959, they settled on a standard barrier height of 32 full inches above the pavement with a 24-inch-wide base. The base is 3 inches high and is followed by a 13-inch side slope before the barrier becomes vertical. These barriers would be implemented in various states, but would bear the name of the state in which they were developed.

Jersey Barriers are designed to redirect a crash, using the car’s momentum to absorb the impact and slide the vehicle up parallel along the side of the barrier to prevent a rollover. In high-speed crashes with small cars along Jersey Barriers, however, there is a greater likelihood that the car will roll over, so an alternate barrier was created. According to the Federal Highway Administration, the F-Shape barrier has the same 3-inch-high base, but features a side that slopes 10 inches above the pavement—three inches less than the side slope of the Jersey Barrier—and is thus able to better absorb proportional impacts from smaller chassis to prevent a rollover. Though the F-Shape is generally preferred, the use of Jersey Barriers—as well as other barrier designs, including constant slope, single slope, and vertical—are still acceptable, because they adequately pass crash tests administered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Additional Source: Federal Highway Adminstration [PDF]; primary image courtesy of NYC Dot Flickr.

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
Why Do Baseball Managers Wear Uniforms?
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Basketball and hockey coaches wear business suits on the sidelines. Football coaches wear team-branded shirts and jackets and often ill-fitting pleated khakis. Why are baseball managers the only guys who wear the same outfit as their players?

According to John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball since 2011, it goes back to the earliest days of the game. Back then, the person known as the manager was the business manager: the guy who kept the books in order and the road trips on schedule. Meanwhile, the guy we call the manager today, the one who arranges the roster and decides when to pull a pitcher, was known as the captain. In addition to managing the team on the field, he was usually also on the team as a player. For many years, the “manager” wore a player’s uniform simply because he was a player. There were also a few captains who didn’t play for the team and stuck to making decisions in the dugout, and they usually wore suits.

With the passing of time, it became less common for the captain to play, and on most teams they took on strictly managerial roles. Instead of suits proliferating throughout America’s dugouts, though, non-playing captains largely hung on to the tradition of wearing a player's uniform. By the early to mid 20th century, wearing the uniform was the norm for managers, with a few notable exceptions. The Philadelphia Athletics’s Connie Mack and the Brooklyn Dodgers’s Burt Shotton continued to wear suits and ties to games long after it fell out of favor (though Shotton sometimes liked to layer a team jacket on top of his street clothes). Once those two retired, it’s been uniforms as far as the eye can see.

The adherence to the uniform among managers in the second half of the 20th century leads some people to think that MLB mandates it, but a look through the official major league rules [PDF] doesn’t turn up much on a manager’s dress. Rule 1.11(a) (1) says that “All players on a team shall wear uniforms identical in color, trim and style, and all players’ uniforms shall include minimal six-inch numbers on their backs" and rule 2.00 states that a coach is a "team member in uniform appointed by the manager to perform such duties as the manager may designate, such as but not limited to acting as base coach."

While Rule 2.00 gives a rundown of the manager’s role and some rules that apply to them, it doesn’t specify that they’re uniformed. Further down, Rule 3.15 says that "No person shall be allowed on the playing field during a game except players and coaches in uniform, managers, news photographers authorized by the home team, umpires, officers of the law in uniform and watchmen or other employees of the home club." Again, nothing about the managers being uniformed.

All that said, Rule 2.00 defines the bench or dugout as “the seating facilities reserved for players, substitutes and other team members in uniform when they are not actively engaged on the playing field," and makes no exceptions for managers or anyone else. While the managers’ duds are never addressed anywhere else, this definition does seem to necessitate, in a roundabout way, that managers wear a uniform—at least if they want to have access to the dugout. And, really, where else would they sit?

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