A Musical Roadway

Hear the William Tell Overture on a stretch of road in Lancaster, Calif.

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Lancaster, Calif., has given new meaning to the term road music. The desert city's musical road-way—the first of its kind in North
America—plays a 20-second snippet of the William Tell Overture as cars zip over it. The sound generator, first put in for a Honda auto commercial, is a pattern of crosswise grooves cut into a stretch of pavement by a company that grinds diversion channels in roadways to aid rainfall runoff.

At one point the strips were paved over after neighbors complained of noise and motorists making U-turns to replay the tune—think of the Lone Ranger's theme. On occasion drivers even backed up at speed over the grooves. "It was just a matter of time before someone got hurt," says R. Rex Parris, Lancaster's mayor.

But the musical road's demise sparked an even more vociferous outcry, so the city of 145,000 spent some $28,000 to reinstall it in a nonresidential area. The westbound left lane of West Avenue G between 32nd and 40th streets now plays the tune for motorists, its pitch and rhythm sounding best when a midsize sedan drives over it at or near the speed limit.

Illustration by Michael Klein

This article was first published in September 2009. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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