There's a guy I work with who is ten years older than me and rides his bike to and from work every day, rain or shine. Twelve miles each way, he tells me. Good for him, I reply. Then I slink away feeling insanely jealous because he's not as lazy as me - and I only live four miles from work. Now I feel lazy AND fat.
Well, I'm proud to announce that for the very first time ever - and that includes when, at the full-on lazy age of 21 in 1988, I worked for a landscaper merely one mile from where I lived - I rode my bike to work today. That's right, I marched right past my Honda and chose my Cannondale M300 as my vehicle of choice (OK, alright, I cannot lie ... my wife and kids took my Civic to Maine and her car's in the shop). So, instead of taking the easy way out and asking a fellow employee to give me a lift this morning, I chose to bike to work - suit and all. Hey, it was a little easier (and only slightly faster) than walking. Call me crazy!
Six driveways down, I pulled over to yank the bottom of my pants out of the chain and to adjust my iPod, which was about to fall out of my pants again. As I continued down Oak Street, I found myself humming along to the Rolling Stones' 1969 hit "You Can't Always Get What You Want" - or I might have been singing aloud, which would explain the befuddled look from some woman watering her roses. Anyway, I began thinking of the irony between this song and how, 13 years ago, I didn't get what I wanted when I kindly and respectfully asked the Shrewsbury Board of Selectmen if they would be so kind as to erect two Speed Limit signs halfway down Oak Street - in each direction - after a couple scary incidents involving speeding motorists.
Rewind to 1999, a few months after my wife and I moved into our home. Some speeding 17-year-old punk from town decides it would be fun to veer off the road through my next-door neighbor's front yard, across my front yard and driveway, onto my other next-door neighbor's front yard and back onto the street a few times in one week. The third time, he must have hit my driveway a little hot because he lost control, spun out and just missed slamming into my neighbor's living room by a few feet. In all three instances, he drove away undetected because he did all of this under the cover of 3am darkness.
We didn't have children at the time, so typically I would have just brushed this off as "one of those things my friends and I did as teenagers too," but my neighbors had small children and I realized if this moron chose to play NASCAR during the day for some whacked-out reason, there would be an unspeakable - and preventable - tragedy. So I did what I thought was right at the time: I sent an e-mail to the Board of Selectmen asking if they would consider installing Speed Limit signs halfway down Oak Street - which is roughly 1.5 miles long - on both sides of the road nearest the hairpin turns. Soon, I discovered that I'd have a better shot at seeing The Flying Dutchman than I would at seeing a DPW worker nail up a couple of Speed Limit signs as requested.
I won't melt your brain with boring details, but after weeks of ignoring my e-mails and phone calls, a selectman calls me. It wasn't a nice phone call, but it was a call nonetheless. I remember some of his vile: "you're asking too much," "it's not that simple," "we don't know what the speed limit is on that street," and "did you grow up here?" After reminding him that I've lived in town less than a year but still pay taxes here, I asked why it mattered. He stammered and stumbled and spit out something that sounded like "because we don't want new people just coming in here and putting up signs everywhere." It was a safety issue! I pleaded: there are no Speed Limit signs anywhere on Oak Street, so people will continue drag racing because there are no signs telling them they can't. Finally, he says the town must do some "research" by analyzing how fast people were driving. This would be achieved, apparently, by the local cops setting up one of those portable side-of-the-road carts which displays your speed in big, bright electronic numbers a half-mile away. Perhaps I was wrong, but I recall thinking that this would actually slow people down, thus decreasing the average "Oak Street speed" from what I guessed was about 53 MPH to 29 MPH or lower. But wait, it gets better.
Two days later, some young, speeding punk tosses a cinder block through the electronic "Slow Down!" machine, rendering it a useless pile of broken glass and twisted metal. I'm not kidding. Imagine how surprised that selectman was to hear my voice mail message requesting that the cops swing by to pick up their machine because someone smashed it to pieces. Not a week later, a letter arrives from the town declaring that they completed their analysis and determined that, during their "trial period," the average speed on Oak Street was officially measured at 31 MPH ... not nearly high enough to warrant Speed Limit signs.
Now desperate, I contacted Karyn Polito and - abracadabra! They're up. As if to stick it to me, the person in charge of Speed Limit signs nails them very high on telephone poles at the far ends of Oak Street - one near Route 9 and another near South Quinsigamond Avenue. Boy, they showed me! Thirteen years later, we still don't have Speed Limit signs anywhere on Oak Street between Route 9 and South Quinsig, but they're there. Sort of.
Back to 2102. I tell you all of this because it's happening again. Benjamin Tartaglia, a former selectman and now a Precinct 6 Town Meeting Member, recently asked the Shrewsbury Board of Selectmen to erect stop signs at all four corners of the Kenilworth Road and Edgewood Road intersection. According to Mr. Tartaglia, neighbors want two additional stop signs set up on Edgewood Road, at an estimated cost of under $200, because that intersection is seeing a lot more traffic and is becoming increasingly more dangerous. Much like Oak Street is a shortcut for some to Routes 9 and 20, the Kenilworth/Westport/Hapgood/Monroe area has become a shortcut to Maple Avenue for those hoping to bypass traffic lights at Main Street/140 and at West Main/Maple Avenue. We all know that while shortcuts are great, they do generate more traffic.
Mr. Tartaglia points out that the intersection is more perilous for area children and drivers due to recent road improvements, traffic lights and increased traffic volume. He has asked twice for two measly stop signs, and he has been shot down twice by town officials. Surprisingly - actually, check that - not surprisingly, one of the reasons the town offered was that "studies concluded the intersection didn't meet traffic volume requirements." Hmmm, sounds familiar. Lame.
I'm struggling to understand why it has become so cumbersome for honest, hardworking taxpayers to be heard and/or taken seriously in this town? Why has it become so hard for townspeople to ask officials for something seemingly simple - these are street signs, after all, not another $50 million school - especially when these requests are generally being made to increase the overall safety of residents and children?
I'm willing to bet that more than a few Shrewsbury residents would gladly donate $200 to erect two stop signs, especially if it contributes to the safety of area children while they are walking, playing, waiting for their bus or riding their bikes to school, work or wherever.
As I lumbered up Route 9 this morning, I began to call myself some very bad names and wondered if I had time to turn around, go home and change into another suit that wasn't all sweaty. Then I thought of that guy at work and how he would make merciless fun of me if I bailed. I listened to Mick Jagger sing that "if you try sometimes, you just might find ... you get what you need."
Perhaps that's true, Mick, wherever you may be, but it's NOT true here in Shrewsbury. Not as it pertains to Speed Limit signs, stop signs, yield signs, yard sale signs, whatever.
Not yet, at least.