Friday, February 12, 1999
How Fast Are We Going?
A small item in the police department's budget for FY00 caught my eye a few weeks ago. Approximately $3,000 was requested for the purchase of "a monitor that flashes the speed of oncoming traffic." (Mosquito, January 22) Most of us have encountered such a sign in Concord, where a free-standing model has been clocking speeds on various town roads for months now. This kind of sign, though, the kind that stands alone, costs close to $12,000, so Carlisle's Police Depatment has proposed purchasing a less expensive model that would sit on the trunk of a cruiser and plug into a cigarette lighter.
While I applaud every effort the department employs to regulate the growing amount of traffic that flies through Carlisle en route to other towns, I'm not sure that this sign is the best solution. Police Chief Dave Galvin commented in that same article that "the department has tested a monitor and found that it was effective in slowing traffic," and I have no doubt that this was true, but was it the sign that did the trick, or was it the sight of the police cruiser upon which the sign was mounted? While I have watched some drivers slow down momentarily when approaching Concord's flashing sign, in my opinion nothing turns a speeder into a law-abiding citizen faster, and for a longer period of time, than the sight of a patrol car on a country road. The suspicion that perhaps there's another cruiser just around the bend, waiting to flag the speeder over, has kept many a driver on the straight-and-narrow for many a mile. And since this sign requires the presence of a police car in order to work, why not dispense with the sign and simply use the cruiser to deter speeders?
This plan might also help solve another police budget dilemma cited in that same article. I was surprised to read that we built a new police station in the late 1980s, but neglected to install air conditioning, which can be quite an uncomfortable oversight to officers required to wear bullet-proof vests while inside the station. So here is my modest proposalsince nothing deters a chronic speeder like the memory of a speeding ticket, instruct the officer who is manning the above-mentioned cruiser to ticket speeding cars with all due diligence. Then put these collected fines into a fund to pay for installing air conditioning. If, as the police chief noted, signs are helpful in slowing traffic, how about posting this one at our town boundaries: "The faster you go, the sooner we get air conditioning." Two goals could be reached with this one plan: the police could enjoy a more comfortable environment and we could begin to take back our streets.
It's taken me a long time to realize one important trait about myself: I'm a slow learner. It's true. I'll try to do something again and again and fail again and again just because I'm too thick to realize that the goal isn't reachable. For instance, I've tried at least 17 different schemes to get my daughters to clear the dinner dishes from the table and put them into the dishwasher in a timely manner from copious bestowing of praise to the withholding of allowances all to no avail. Each one of these attempts to instill a sense of responsibility and achievement (not counting the shouting, which was not a planned attempt at all, but, rather, a spontaneous outpouring of total exasperation) was met with typical adolescent indifference.
Perhaps if I had stuck with math in college, rather than switching to psychology, I wouldn't be so persistent in my perception of the correct way to do things. "Girls," I would say coolly and confidently, "I calculate that the chance of your doing the dishes within two hours of dinner is 12
Still, I wonder where the line is between reaching for the unreachable star and simply being stubborn. Wherever it is, I often find myself on the wrong side. I was the one, after all, who insisted that the stock market was over-valued at 6,500, and 7,500, and 8,500.
My affliction, unfortunately, is not so rare. Take a look at the Washington scene and you'll see a gaggle of Congressional House managers trying again and again to convict the President on specious charges trumped up to fit their definition of high crimes, when it's evident that that goal is an impossibility (as may be proven on the day this article appears). None of these elected officials, so far as I can tell, has enough math skills to count to 67, the number of yes votes needed to convict.
Closer to home, we keep attacking the same problems using the same tactics year after year, with minute gains. We strive to maintain the rural character of Carlisle by limiting development, which makes the town even more attractive to developers. And because they've got the bucks to outlast our noble but overmatched town committees, development continues apace.
So maybe it's time we learned a lesson and tried a new tactic. Let's make the town less rather than more desirable, and maybe then people will stop wanting to move here. This is not so hard to do. We could simply invite the cellular telephone companies to construct not just two or three towers around town, but to ring the entire perimeter with these Erector Set eyesores. The visual blight should be enough to keep newcomers away, but just to be sure, we could trumpet the health hazards widely so potential developers would need to carry more liability insurance.
OK, so we may not be happy with falling property values, and some of us may get sick, but on the plus side, we could stop worrying about having to expand the school and we'd get to keep intact a lot more wetlands. It sounds like a reasonable trade to me. But what do I know, I'm a slow learner.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito