My good friend Pat Sutton called Colorado the “nose picker state” after she and her family moved here from the moist and more nose friendly climes of Michigan at about the same time I did as I returned to the Fraser Valley in 1973. It is likely the high, dry climate that leads to the prevalence of this age-old habit in our state; often observed if you take a look around at other drivers waiting with you at traffic lights. A person engaging in this normally private practice inside what is effectively an upside down fish bowl speaks to our failure to recognize driving not as a private, but rather a social activity.
Further proof of our self-centered driving nature is the maddening habit of many who fail to simply use one finger to gently press a very handy lever to indicate they are turning at an intersection. Might I suggest Santa bring our friends turn signals for Christmas this year? An absence of this handy device can be the only explanation for the lack of blinking lights on cars at intersections.
In the Fraser Valley good-old days we all waved at each other as we passed by on our drives about town. This is tough to do when you have a cell phone in one hand and (hopefully) the steering wheel gripped by the other. This wave recognized we were sharing our streets with our neighbors, not monopolizing them like a foreign invader. Local status points were lost if you failed to return a wave.
Some say the definition of eternity is four blonds at a four way stop. In fact it is four Middle Park citizens deferring to our friends at an intersection – no – no – you go first neighbor.
Another sure fire indicator of a driver who can’t see beyond his nose and out the windshield are tinted windows. These dark windows present a clear danger to pedestrians – we make eye contact with a driver at a stop sign to ensure they see us in spite of the tendency of a driver making a right turn to only look left for on-coming traffic. I’ve had to tap the hood of cars to raise the driver’s attention like Ratso Rizzo, Dustin Hoffman’s down and out character in the film Midnight Cowboy, who banged on the hood of a cab in New York as he shouted “I’m walking here!!”
Our bad driving habits pale in comparison to other countries where drivers are newer to this all contact sport than we are. I was walking down a broad sidewalk next to an auto melee on a multi-lane boulevard in Chengdu, China – glad for a bit to be out of range of drivers who consider pedestrians an unfortunate underclass who are fair game to run over. My temporary reverie was rudely interrupted by a honking horn right behind me; I turned to find an angry Lexus driver who was upset I was blocking his personal driving lane.
One of my goals as a Fraser town trustee is to establish alternative cross-town travel routes so residents aren’t forced to turn on to an increasingly crowded US 40 to get to in-town destinations. As a local journalist in the late 70’s I pushed for town bypasses, a ship which has long since sailed as both Winter Park and Fraser have built up over the interceding 40 years.
I envision side streets designed to host both pedestrians (WP and Fraser are not blessed with side-street sidewalks) and cars. Innovative street designs are narrow, landscaped and present drivers with a certain level of “confusion”, resulting in slower travel speeds. We’ll need to temper designs with snowplowing requirements.
We assume driverless cars will fully utilize turn signals. So far driverless programing is having difficulty dealing with snow-covered streets. In our current driving reality – please slow down, wave at your neighbors and use that handy turn signal. Remember, that person you cut off will likely be holding the door for you at the post office.
Andy Miller’s downtown Fraser house is lit up like a Vegas casino for Christmas, hopefully confusing and slowing down passing motorists on Doc. Suzie Ave. Share local stories at firstname.lastname@example.org . Happy holidays!