Avoiding Death By Chicken Feathers In Downtown Centre
February 16, 2004 (postpaper.com)
An article in the Feb. 10 issue of USA Today titled "More big trucks mixing with cars worries officials" extolled the perils of family cars, sedans and SUVs that share the road with 18-wheelers. A study by The Road Information Project (TRIP) was cited in the article and claimed new strategies for coping with the problem have arisen out of concerns over the increased danger of crashes between big rigs and more-vulnerable cars.
The report did mention that truck-related fatalities have dropped 11 percent since 1990, though 4,500 motorists and passengers still die each year in truck-car accidents.
In fact, according to the article, several states on the Interstate 10 corridor between Florida and Texas are considering adding separate lanes designed and constructed specifically for 18-wheelers.
It shouldn't surprise local citizens to know this fact, but the people of Centre have had a specially-constructed route to detour through-trucks from the downtown area for decades. Now, if only we could get the guys and gals piloting those 18-wheelers to use it!
As I write this column, it's Thursday morning and I just saw it happen again. I see it at least three times a week as I'm walking to or from my car either in the morning, during lunchtime, or at the end of the day. And if I see it happen that often, no more than I have the opportunity, surely it happens many more times that I don't see. I'm afraid someone's going to get killed, and because of the location of my office, I'll be one of the first ones on the scene -- if something isn't done about the problem.
What I'm referring to is the daily occurrence of a north- or southbound 18-wheeler driver who blasts through the intersection in front of the Cherokee County Courthouse at 40 mph (or some multiple thereof), oblivious to the red light on the other side of the windshield telling him there's someone on South River Street who'd like a chance to dart across Highway 411 without getting a close-up of the intricate design work and fine craftsmanship that goes into a Kenworth radiator assembly.
Sometimes the offender is driving a chicken truck, sometimes a rolling brewery (not that there's anything wrong with that) and sometimes a load of Martha Stewart's finest, headed for a practically empty store shelf near you. Regardless of whether the driver's cargo is solid, liquid, or soon-to-be-gas, I fear constantly that it's going to end up scattered three-feet deep in what will remain -- post collision -- of the lobby of Regions Bank unless someone detours these trucks that have no good reason to be in the downtown area; or at least make an effort to dissuade them from disobeying the traffic laws the Centre City Council has had the good sense to pass over the years that serve to keep the rest of us alive.
But, some may argue, those trucks will still have to negotiate the traffic light at the intersection of Highways 9 and 411. Correct! I would reply to them, but at least down there at that particular intersection, drivers in perpendicular lanes can see the big rigs coming when they run the red lights. This increased field of vision would at least afford the unlucky driver and passengers of a car in the path of that speeding truck -- the people who account for 86 percent of all deaths which occur in collisions between cars and big rigs, according to the TRIP study -- a few milliseconds to get their spiritual affairs in order before the feathers REALLY start flying.
Isn't that the very least we can do for the poor sods?
I talked with Centre Mayor Phil Powell about the problem a few days ago. He told me he's been trying for several months to get the go-ahead from the Alabama Department of Transportation to re-route the 18-wheelers that are "just passing through" on their way to deliveries somewhere down the line.
"I'm waiting right now for (Rep.) Richard (Lindsey) to get me a meeting with the DOT to discuss what we can do about this," the mayor told me Wednesday morning.
Rep. Lindsey, I realize you have a full plate right now down in Montgomery trying to figure out how to pay school teachers with the beads and trinkets we're left with in the state treasury, but I implore you, please, do what you can to help the mayor -- and fast. Because despite the minor uproar the mayor caused last year with his initial comments at a council meeting and, subsequently, in The Post's letters to the editor section, about re-routing the truck traffic around the downtown area of ... town (actually, there were only a couple of letters, from discontented truckers or their fans, now that I think about it, and neither of the authors was able to grasp the concept of the distinction between "through traffic" and a truck making a local delivery, so I'm not too sure uproar that isn't a little too strong a description) it is very necessary and could actually save someone's life. At the least, an effort to get those trucks routed around the downtown area could save the friendly fellows who work on the Centre Parks and Recreation grounds crew from having to spend hours and hours of overtime in a bucket truck, plucking chicken feathers out of the upper limbs of the oak trees in front of the Cherokee County Courthouse.
More trucks using the Chesnut Bypass would, mathematically speaking, mean fewer trucks screaming up and down Main Street. This would also improve --significantly -- the likelihood that ladies doing business with the clothing and cosmetics boutiques would be able to enter and exit their automobiles without having their skirts blown inside out and over their heads by the walls of displaced air emanating from those fast-moving big rigs.
Which I love, by the way. Not the ladies with their skirts over their heads. Well, I love them too, but ... what I'm referring to here are the big rigs.
Truckers, I'm not out to get you here. Honestly. When I was a kid, my brother and cousin Brad and I couldn't wait to get our driver's licenses so we could become log truck drivers. It was something we dreamed about occasionally, discussed often and planned for at length. We had our favorite styles and colors of semis all picked out, though I don't believe we ever settled on the name of the business. Seems my brother and I preferred "The Wright Brothers and Brad," or something like that, while my cousin was more partial to the moniker "Hurley and Those Other Two Guys Who Do All the Work While I Drive Around Looking Cool." Something like that. I suppose the name of the business would have been reduced to an acronym before being painted onto the side doors, assuming our lives had worked out the way we had them planned, circa 1981.
Alas, they hardly ever do.
Anyway, I tell that story to try and keep any truck driver friends (or enemies, now) of mine from dropping their loads, hoping into their rigs and destroying my front yard, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.-style. I understand that truckers have a job to do and the new federal regulations just enacted by the Bush administration keep them off the roads more than they probably should and make it harder than ever to make money and still get home to see the kids play soccer and softball on the weekends and make sure the rent and the water bill and the light bill all get paid on time. Probably the last thing any trucker wants or needs is for a bunch of yokels in Centre, Alabama to hoist up a sign at either end of the Chesnut Bypass telling them to mosey on around town, thank you very much.
Still, the mayor is trying to get permission to reduce the truck traffic through downtown by sending them around and I know the merchants along Main Street think it's a good idea. For what it's worth, as one of those merchants, I think it's a good idea, too.
Re-routing those trucks might mean a few extra headaches for their drivers, though I doubt it. Might mean a longer trip and a few extra seconds getting from one end of town to the other. Don't care. What it will most certainly do is go a long way towards preventing a whole lot of something -- or even one someone -- from getting scattered all over the front lawn of the courthouse.
And I think we can all agree there's nothing wrong with doing something as inexpensive and logical as this, that might accomplish that.
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