Except for those fully committed to getting around on foot or by pedaling in their day-to-day lives, residents of Northwest Arkansas remain pretty devoted to their cars and trucks.
I'm right there among the latter crowd. After years of wanting a pickup, I finally got one last year. I love its utility, whether it's towing a trailer or making it easy to haul a load to Fayetteville's bulky waste cleanups or to take leaves and branches to the city for composting.
The folks who argue for a less automobile-centered region make a whole lot of sense. With so many people moving to Northwest Arkansas, the region really cannot afford to stay focused on individualized transportation. We need a robust system of mass transit. It makes sense for our communities to develop in ways that promote fewer miles traveled by car and more capacity for living our lives without racking up 20, 30 or 60 miles of driving in a day.
None of that's going to happen overnight, though. It's going to take years of different housing and commercial development strategies to create towns that promote compact living, where one can live, work, worship and play without constantly having to get in a car.
That's not to say cars are obsolete. We just ought to have options.
For now, though, the region is full of cars and trucks. At times of the day, it appears the number of vehicles overwhelm the capacity of our transportation system to keep them moving. That's why Interstate 49 is being widened in sections and it seems every city is constantly working on new intersections or streets to help uncork the traffic flow.
It's a fair question whether the region can pour enough concrete to handle its traffic demand. It's also a fair question to ask whether that's what local residents want. How many people, after all, moved to Northwest Arkansas from big metro areas because they appreciated getting way from gridlock and a world filled with asphalt and concrete?
The crowded nature of our streets sometimes promotes a breakdown of the rules. People get more aggressive because traffic and their impatience demand it. Other drivers get nervous and, rather than just following the rules, they start modifying them to their own comfort level. For example, rather than moving into an intersection when it's their turn, some drivers lack confidence and wave other drivers ahead, mucking up the "flow" of traffic.
I was driving down Arkansas 265 last week and pulled up behind an older pickup. On its bumper was a sticker warning me: "Manual transmission: I roll back on hills." In Fayetteville, that's could be a serious cause for concern. It's hard to avoid hills.
I had never seen such a sticker. I'm used to stickers proclaiming a favored sports team or forcefully announcing one's view on a political or social cause. One would expect to see a "Keep Fayetteville funky" sticker or maybe even one that says"Cave Springs: Where government and drama meet." But a sticker that essentially communicates "I don't know how to drive this thing so all you other drivers need to account for that?" That's a unique approach.
With Northwest Arkansas' crowded streets and diverse driving styles, I kind of wonder if the idea shouldn't catch on.
If someone printed up a sticker that said "Turn signal? It works. I just choose not to," he could probably make a fortune.
Of course, our region has its share of car wrecks arising from so-called distracted driving. How many times do you look over to a driver alongside to see he's paying at least as much attention to his cellphone as to the road ahead?
Maybe those drivers' cars should be marked with a sticker that says: "Don't text and drive: I'm not paying enough attention to react."
Or those really aggressive drivers would be given stickers to warn others: "I view signs, signals and lane markings as merely guidelines."
Maybe such vehicle-to-vehicle communication would stave off some traffic accidents. And it's not like it's a new idea: People have been communicating with each other in the traffic lanes for years, but they've used horns and gestures that leave room for at least a little interpretation.
At least bumper stickers can be clear in their meaning.
Maybe some drivers in Northwest Arkansas should get stickers that say "Yes, I'm a terrible driver, but I don't have any other options."
Commentary on 05/15/2017
Print Headline: Driven to distraction