Allow me, first, to wholeheartedly confess that I drive like a highly-skilled, tightly-wound maniac. Think Jason Bourne in Paris. Almost every job I've had since 1988 has required me to drive: in the city, in New England (including Maine, which is a very large state), in New York City (all boroughs), in Montreal, in Toronto, in Rochester (in the snow), etc. Additionally, since my family of origin lives in Pennsylvania, I have made frequent 5-hour trips to see them, driving through some of the worst traffic anywhere ever. And I can do all of this while eating a Panera flatbread and drinking iced tea and participating on a conference call and passing an eighteen-wheeler at a speed exactly 14 miles above the limit (usually 79) (except on Route 128, where there doesn't appear to be a speed limit and so I just go with the flow.) I have mad driving skills.
And yet! When I am driving through someone's neighborhood, I slow down. I go at or under the speed limit, depending on conditions. I stop at red lights and stop signs. I pay attention to street signs. I really do drive "as if my kids lived here."
The reason for this bipolar driving model is that, on a highway, with lots of lanes, people are all going in one direction (generally straight ahead, unless you are on Storrow Drive or the Schuylkill Expressway, in which case all bets are off), and there aren't things like kids and pedestrians and cyclists and trash cans and landscapers and utility trucks and school buses and old people and letter carriers, etc. And DOGS! Because of all of those things that are on roads which are not interstate highways, it is a good idea to slow the flock down. Also: police officers. Just a few months ago, there was road work at the corner of Beaver and Warren streets and my friend, who is a police officer, was directing traffic. I gave him a wave and he tried to stop oncoming traffic to allow me (and some other cars) to turn left onto Warren (which can be hypertension inducing even when there isn't construction and a police detail.) My friend was all decked out in the screaming acid yellow traffic gear that makes cops and runners highly visible. There were about five trucks with flashing lights. My friend raised his hands to get the oncoming traffic to stop. A car didn't stop. He shouted, whistled, and waved his hands. The car kept moving. Right at the point where my friend was about to become a hood ornament, the car stopped. Now, if I had been a police officer, I would have ARRESTED that person on the SPOT for being STUPID, which is why I am not a police officer (because there is not enough room in all the jails for all of the stupid people whom I would arrest every day.) My friend shrugged his shoulders and then directed me to turn left. "Happens all the time," he said. GAH!
Which brings me to today. I was able to walk Finn to school at the Fitz at 8:20AM. The bell rings at, I think, 8:42. That is, we were early. There was no need to rush. I noted that there weren't many cars there today and that the drop-off was more calm than on most mornings. And then! A mom in an SUV (I will not give more identifying factors so as not to shame her, in hopes that she will read this and repent her ways and adopt the bipolar method of driving) made a right turn from Beal Road onto the bus driveway next to the school. Yes, the one with the huge DO NOT ENTER sign and the menacing gate, which is open for buses to exit after dropping the kids at school. Yes, the driveway that is next to the 'small' playground where, on nice days, many younger siblings hang out with their parents for a time after drop-off. Yes, the driveway next to the door which many teachers use to enter the school with their armloads of things (and elementary school teachers bring in things by the armload every day.) WHY WOULD ANYONE EVEN DO THIS? The risk, at the very least, of having a head-on collision with a school bus or van would be a deterrent. The idea that, while speeding down the driveway, there is potential of running over a pre-schooler or running into a teacher with armloads of stuff who isn't looking for a speeding SUV going the WRONG WAY would be enough for me to reconsider just how late for work I am and what the trade-off is.
Street signs are not suggestions: they are commands. Laws. If it says "Do Not Enter", it's not optional if you're late for work. If it says "Stop for Pedestrian in Crosswalk", it's not referring to the guy behind you (and, in fact, a car was rear-ended on Warren Street on Monday when it stopped to allow four students and a parent to cross.) If the light is yellow, it does not mean "speed up." If the sign says "Stop", it does not mean "pause."
Traffic everywhere is bad; in Waltham, it's reaching epic proportions and, very concerning in the recent Traffic Study, is that only a few of the worst traffic nightmares in the city were included. So, it's going to be up to us to drive as if our children live here. Because they do.