Monday, April 11, 2011

Father's Lessons: An example

Fathers teach their children many lessons in life and that is one of the reasons why their children need them so badly. For me, one of the lessons taught was not to play in the street. I was fortunate - I lived in the suburbs, and had a large yard. However I often visited family in the city and while it was on a very quiet and LARGE side street, it had traffic from time to time. The street was so large and wide, it was easy to see children and easy for children to see the cars. But what was taught to me was clear: streets are made for cars to drive on, not for children to play in. Go to the park or to the backyard to play (my family in the city did have a fenced-in yard as well). Playing in the street would eventually get you hurt and that would be your fault, not the car driver as its not the drivers responsibility to dodge children in a street where they have no right to be. Pedestrians walking down the sidewalk would be enraged to see a motorcycle driving at them so why would drivers not be similarly pissed to find people standing in the street?

Apparently not all people believe this or are otherwise opined. In the inner city, many children have no readily accessible park and for others the street is a legitimate option as, like my cousin's, it has low traffic or perhaps is at the end of a dead end street. In my neighborhood, there is a large, safe park, at the end of a nearby street and that is where most children play. I also see them in yards. I do not see them in the streets. I live very close to Boston proper and in between two major highways connected by a high-speed thoroughfare. The population density is VERY high with only a driveway separating most houses. Most homes are two or three family homes and some are populated by families or else 3 to 6 college students. For these reasons the number of cars is quite high and weekday mornings, evenings and weekends are all very high-traffic times.

Yesterday I was driving to do some errands. I got a late start and was driving a bit fast, admittedly, as I turned onto a large one-way street. I slammed on the brakes as I saw a father playing with his son in the middle of the street - with his son at the "top" of the one way street! I couldn't believe it. He shouted at me. I apologized for turning the corner so fast but asked him what he was doing in the street. He acted astounded. He said it was a perfectly fine place to play. I mentioned the park. He said he didn't want to go there. I said the street is not for playing children. He swore at me to slow down. I said many people, rightly or wrongly, drive from 30 to 40 mph going down that street (I was barely doing 25). He shouted at me again. I drove off. His attitude was one of a man who had found me speeding down the sidewalk and not the street.

I suppose it depends on the nature of the street how local people treat it. I've seen those in urban neighborhoods (in Maine, for instance) that seemed safe and large enough for both the occasional car and kids. For those who consider the street to be quiet enough, it may seem to be a relatively harmless place to be. But when combining city streets and those who don't have the sense God gave a frog, the street is not a low-risk area to be. Especially one lined with cars on either side and connected to other major roads in a way that encourages high-speed driving (one way only, long, and at the bottom of a large hill). Whether someone is recklessly driving too fast or simply doesn't understand that the nature of a road that encourages faster speeds, its simply too risky a place for children to be, especially when a safe alternative is but yards away.

Even in the suburbs, people abuse the concept of streets. A road in a ever-increasingly more populated suburban area of southern Maine near where I grew up is one of those streets with a 35 mph speed limit and the kind of naked, windy curves and hills that beg cars to drive faster. Further, this street is in rural Maine, where the suburbs would be considered countryside to people from the city. I have not seen a house without a yard and most homes have very large yards. So the only people on the street are high-speed bikers and perhaps an occasional jogger. That said, the street has a VERY narrow bike line and NO breakdown lane or shoulder of any kind. Drivers must be rather strict in navigating the road - its too narrow. Its far too easy to wander into the bike line and that's what people tend to do rather than drift too close to the center line and oncoming traffic (though I have seen that as well).

One day while driving down that road at around 40 mph (5 mph excessive, but certainly not uncommon), I was a bit more toward the bike line - the shoulder portion of the road, when I gasped to see two women pushing carriages down the line with babies in them. They waved their arms and shrieked at me to slow down. At first I was shocked and then scared that I could've killed a baby and then I was curiously stymied.... I wasn't in the bike line but I was but a tire's width away - not at all uncommon for that narrow road. And I wasn't going unusually fast. The truly scary situation was caused by these two ladies thinking they were walking down an elevated, wide sidewalk, and not the naked shoulder of a narrow two lane road that was far from being a breezy, empty, cow path. They genuinely though they were going to push large baby carriages safely down the side of a street when the 'side' was about an 18 inch wide strip of cracked pavement. A street with but two STOP signs at either end. I can only assume they were city transplants or like the lunatic I saw yesterday, entertained the idea that cars should anticipate, identify and navigate well around them at all times. I have not seen or heard of them on the street since then. Like the man around the corner from me with his son, I expect the high traffic volume and speed of the cars did all the dissuading they needed.

Some cities, such as some in Florida have ordinances against children playing in the street - this solves the car vs. children battle that arises as a result of kids playing in trafficked areas. For drivers, pedestrians always have the right of way. That said, I think most drivers agree that pedestrians being in the street is generally a bad idea for both cars and pedestrians. Cars must slam on the brakes and pose the potential for injury to passengers and the passengers of cars around them. Ultimately, people need to get in and out of the street as fast as possible. The "sleepy" nature of many streets may entice children onto them, but they also entice drivers to speed through them. Playing in the street is ultimately an invitation to an "accident," and when you think about it, there's nothing accidental about cars hitting people who are occupying the very space designed for cars and cars only.

If a dad doesn't understand that, then I pray to God he doesn't find out the hard way that small children stand NO CHANCE against 2,500 lbs. of moving automobile.


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