Friday, October 6, 2006
Asphalt: an idea that keeps resurfacing
Ready for a pop quiz on pathways? (Not to worry - it's ungraded.)
1. Which would you prefer, pathways with a natural surface, or asphalt? Is there only one politically correct answer?
2. What is the pathway surface used in Concord between the town center flagpole and Brooks Pharmacy?
3. Do you like the surface, or has it bothered you?
4. Have you even noticed it?
5. What do you look at most when driving on Lowell Road into Concord? Rank in order of importance:
a) Other vehicles in the road
c) Road conditions and weather
d) Historic buildings
e) Other houses
f) Birds, squirrels, etc.
g) Trees and plantings
h) Any canoes in the river
i) Pathway surfaces
Crushed stone surface had problems
Carlisle's Pedestrian and Bike Safety Committee is considering asphalt for new pathway sections lying outside the Historic District, while in the center of town and along Bedford Road, they are researching natural-looking surfaces such as crushed stone mixed with organic binder or another product called DirtGlue. The crushed stone pathway on Bedford Road was builit in 2004, but even though people use it regularly, weeds have quickly infiltrated. Jack Troast, committee chair, said they will not use herbicides, but have instead mown the weeds. If the DirtGlue is not successful, he said an option for the Bedford Road path would be to scrape and resurface with crushed stone as needed. One of the people who have worked hardest to make the pathway project a reality, Deb Belanger, said the committee would like to be able keep the Bedford Road path natural, in order to honor the spirit of the original agreement with the landowners. She explained that some of the landowners have no preference, or want an asphalt surface, but others prefer a stone path.
Smooth paths are safer for all
If the town has a consensus that pathways are useful and desirable, then I think the main priority when choosing a surface should be safe travel for all pedestrians.
There is no reason to create loose stone pathways that wheelchairs and strollers cannot navigate. We have had both in our family, and can say the expression "stopping dead in one's tracks" takes on new meaning when trying to push small wheels through mud. In the letter, "Are we building accessible pathways?" in the April 15, 2005 Mosquito, Jane White wrote, "Today an incident has brought to life the need for more careful planning and watch on how we spend our town funds. A young lady in an electric wheelchair wanted to be able to take our brand new pathway down to Kimball's to purchase an ice cream. She was unable to do so because the size of the crushed stone on the surface of this pathway was too large and bumpy for her wheelchair, as well as the fact that the pathway has already washed away in two separate places."
Whether the town mixes stones with organic binder, glue or tar, I hope people can agree to use a weed-free surface that will be accessible for all residents. Carlisle paved its roads a long time ago for good reason — the hard surface is low-maintenance and durable. Unlike the wooded trails, Carlisle's pathways will parallel the main roads. Why would a gently curving paved path look so bad? The roads are a whole lot wider and they are asphalt. Asphalt has a long track record and should be considered for all the pathways if an equally accessible alternative is not found soon.
And once you got used to it, you might not even notice the pathway surface. Between Concord's Brooks Pharmacy and the flagpole there are four types of surface: a natural-looking stone dust, concrete, asphalt and brick. How did you do on the pop quiz?
The significance of small acts
Last month at the Transfer Station, I had an unpleasant encounter. In a preoccupied state, I parked briefly in front of the swap shed, dropped off a paper bag full of "swappables," and returned to my car. The fellow who had been parked next to me when I left my car was squeezing into his driver's seat in a tight fit that was completely my fault, and he took a moment to pry himself back out of his car and throw a sarcastic comment my way — something along the lines of "Superior parking job!" He then re-entered the driver's seat and drove up to the garbage containers. His comment stopped me in my tracks, and I wondered what he would have done if I had replied to him, "You know, my niece died this morning after a long fight with cancer, and all day I've been trying to imagine what agony my brother and sister-in-law must be going through. That's why I didn't notice your car when I pulled in."
I went to dump my garbage bags and paused to watch this man as he joked with the attendant in a pleasant way, and I realized that, rather than being the "grouchy old neighbor who won't return kids' baseballs," he was probably a nice person who had suffered a moment of annoyance. He might even be regretting his snide comment.
And then it hit me — he was me. He had only done what I have done dozens of times in my life whenever I hold a door open for someone who neglects to say thank-you or make some polite kind of acknowledgement. Occasionally, this oversight will tip my meter and I will hiss a sarcastic "you're welcome!" Often, I will justify it by thinking that, next time, the miscreant will have learned her lesson and be more considerate. Even more often, I just feel like a mean-spirited idiot afterwards. But never, until now, had I paused to think that perhaps that person was preoccupied with a particularly horrendous day of her own. Once again, I marveled at how little we know of the truth of others, and how little of our honest selves we show to the world. Perhaps Mr. Snide Remark was going through a difficult time in his life, and would have benefited from someone being a little more considerate in her parking job. I know it would have gone a long way to soothe my spirit if he had instead decided to crack a joke about my obvious parking ineptitude.
If I were to record an essay for National Public Radio's "This I Believe" project, it would be about the power of small acts to color a person's outlook and perhaps save or destroy a person's day. Random acts of kindness can prove to be gifts of grace, and sometimes the best gift of all might just be silence.
© 2006 The