Follow Narrow Roads, Not the Narrow-minded


Brad Anderson

About a week ago, Farmington residents could have been present at a rare treat—an official (and supposedly genuine) examination of road planning issues. What made it rare was the presence, at the invitation of the selectmen, of municipal law expert Bernie Waugh, municipal planner Steve Whitman, engineer Paul Brown, and concerned residents. All in one room.

The result? We were treated to a clear characterization of how four elements are combining to destroy our own best interests and degrade our community and our neighborhoods. Don't be shocked . . . but half of it is your fault. What's the problem?

  1. Your apparently bottomless lust for convenience
  2. Your short-sighted, poorly-informed willingness to drive public policy to ever-greater development of municipal infrastructure to the detriment of all taxpayers
  3. The narrow view taken by engineers the world over
  4. The failure of selectmen, department heads, planners, and especially engineers to see our community as a system rather than a collection of separate issues.

If you had been watching channel 26, you would have heard some interesting stuff:

Look: this isn't easy. There is a lot to it. But when we plan on the basis of what would be easiest, we end up allowing engineers to design our town to be "easy to plow" instead of good to live in.

What we should have learned that night is that planning for a prosperous future will take a view of our town as a complex interaction of dozens of factors instead of a series of isolated and simple acts. Create an inconvenient new intersection on Route 11, and you will drive traffic to the Chestnut Hill Road. Make a road more comfortable to commute over, and more people will drive faster on it. So-called road improvement is like squeezing a balloon—an ugly bulge always pops out somewhere.

Think about your youth. Remember when you were ignorant of the complexities of living in the world, and thinking only of how perfect life would be if you could only eat all the candy at the drugstore? Good thing you got smarter. Good thing you learned that if you ate all the candy, you would get deathly sick. Good thing you paid attention to your experience and learned to look ahead.

I have to wonder . . . won't we ever grow up? THINK! If you get all the things that you think will make your personal world perfect, we will all be worse off than you could ever imagine. The only problem is, you keep thinking of yourself. You rely on narrow-minded engineers. You lean on our selectmen and department heads to make your personal experience more convenient.

Smarten up. You moved to or choose to remain in a town with gravel roads. Narrow roads that keep speeds and serious accidents down. Roads with features that make people think there are hazards—features that are only dangerous if you drive too fast. Don't like rural living anymore? Then move to New Jersey.

Or . . . you could choose to slow down for a livable town. To be content with roads that take a little longer to commute over. To slow down in your advocacy of changes that will mess up our neighborhoods. To slow down our selectmen when they choose to ignore the good advice of planners and experts that rightly see our town as a complex system.

But something keeps going wrong here. Residents of the Meaderboro Road just got official letters announcing that the most rural parts of that road are going to be widened and straightened and made more attractive to speeders and additional commuters. Who is making these decisions? Do they not get it? Do you?

A whole series of bad choices become creeping stupidity that simply adds up to a crummy place to live. It's hard to undo stupidity—but we can avoid it. Look past your own nose. Yankees used to deal with a little hardship—hell, they were proud of it.