Drive through every neighborhood like your own

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Recently, while attending a neighborhood meeting, I was reminded of an all too common lament that I've heard over the years about drivers speeding through other people's neighborhoods. I know we all agree that we want our neighborhoods to be safe for our children, and we should be able to safely back out of our driveways without worrying that someone is going to crash into us. So how do we make all of our neighborhoods safer?

Something that is often talked about in traffic safety circles is that drivers will leave their houses in the morning and carefully navigate through their own neighborhood but then speed off through other neighborhoods. I have no idea how much truth there is to this, but I do believe there are some steps we can take to reduce the concerns raised. The speed at which we travel through residential streets has a big impact on quality of life issues for residents. Many of us are touched by this when we are in the front yard and see someone go by even a little over the speed limit. Tranquility disappears, and a certain feeling of being threatened causes our adrenaline to rise. This is especially true if we have young children or have memories of a serious traffic collision nearby.

The speed limit on most of our residential streets is 25 mph, and if we believe that we have to reach our destination "right away", and meanwhile speed, we significantly reduce our chances of avoiding unexpected obstacles that may come up, such as a child on a bike coming out from behind a parked car.

It seems that drivers are more frequently taking shortcuts to get to work or school. They will cut through on residential streets to avoid school zones, signal lights or areas of congestion. Because they have been driving at 30 miles per hour on the arterial, they will many times continue to travel through neighborhoods at similar speeds, with little regard for those folks who live there. Ironically, these same drivers may complain loudly when others speed through their own neighborhoods.

What I've noticed about driving behavior, including my own, is when we are in a hurry we tend to drive faster without considering why we are running late. Is it really that big of deal if we show up a few minutes late? For example, I pulled a driver over recently for speeding. The driver was late for a doctor's appointment. I pointed out that, in my experience, I rarely get in to see a doctor exactly when my appointment is scheduled, and even if I do, I spend at least 10 minutes in the examination room.

What is the point of rushing, and what causes drivers to be late in the first place? I expect that most of us are late for work, appointments and so forth due to a lack of planning or an interruption that caused us to fall behind. We forget something and need to return to the house, or the phone rings as we are leaving, and that slows us down. Some people habitually get up late, and by the time they leave for work, they are already rushing. This in-a-rush driving behavior is not only stressful but it is risky

As I have mentioned before, the reality is that we can drive from one side of Walla Walla to the other in about 12 minutes. I did just that from the community college to Plaza Way in normal weekday traffic at the speed limit. That is a distance of approximately 4¬Ω miles. So how much time are we really saving when we rush around town, cutting through neighborhoods, getting stressed and stressing others? How many times have you noticed cars speed by you only to pull up beside them to wait at the next signal light?

For example, if I lived on Plaza Way near Bi-Mart, and I was late for a class at the community college, and I sped to school while averaging 40 mph (about 10 mph over the posted speed limits) I would reach the parking lot approximately two minutes and 15 seconds sooner than if I had driven the speed limit, that is, if I didn't get pulled over or have a collision on the way. At the end of the day, would you even remember that important 2¼ minutes that you saved? It is simply not worth taking the chance of harming yourself or others.

Capt. Gary Bainter is Patrol Division commander for the Walla Walla Police Department. He can be reached at gbainter@ci.walla-walla.wa.us or 524-4372.

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