By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
It’s not a secret. It has been discussed in the Tribal Council Chambers and by the water cooler ad nauseam. People are driving too fast, ignoring speed limit signs and pedestrians in crosswalks. The downtown speed limit is 20 mph. It is common to see vehicles traveling through the downtown area at twice that speed.
The police can’t be everywhere, and they shouldn’t have to be. We are adults, and most of us can read. We read well enough to pass a driver’s license test, and part of that test is reading speed limit signs. And yet, a good many of us continue to blow through town like it is a race track.
As tribal employees, we should be setting the example for our community. But, much too often, some of those vehicles that fly through town have a tribal seal on the side of them. No, they are not emergency vehicles.
We have been fortunate that we have had only a few pedestrian deaths on the Boundary over the recent years, although I doubt that the families that have lost loved ones or suffered injury due to negligent driving feel very fortunate. Our behavior and lack of ability to enforce the established speed limits in town are an accident waiting to happen. As the Tribe continues to look at ways to invigorate the business community and invite Cherokee entrepreneurs and outside companies to fill in those vacant buildings in the downtown, there will be more foot traffic and more potential targets for speeding cars on our roadways.
As part of overall plans for the downtown, there is some discussion on how the traffic might be slowed in that area. Some suggestions include increased signage, speed bumps, and traffic cameras, but those solutions are only visions of what could happen. We need some immediate steps to be taken to prevent tragedies from happening.
The way our downtown is designed, parking spaces along the roadway are such that a vehicle must back into traffic to get into the flow of traffic, creating a limited field of vision for oncoming traffic and unexpected road hazards – one of the reasons for a slow speed limit in town. Another reason that the speed limit is low; our government and community encourage foot traffic in the downtown area to increase business and revenue in our community. We need people to shop in our downtown area. We want to provide a welcoming atmosphere, well, because we are good, hospitable people and it is our way to be courteous. If in the process of being nice, our guests stay longer and shop more, that is a nice fringe benefit. But, I imagine it is difficult to feel welcome when you are dodging two-ton missiles cruising through the downtown to get from one shopping area to another.
The town of Sylva was so concerned about this issue that they re-routed both Main Street and back street traffic to provide for pedestrian safety and safer traffic flow. They effectively turned Main Street into a one-lane road, using the left lane for a pull-out lane for cars parked in front of businesses. The town also has working pedestrian crosswalk signals at each intersection in town.
Our police are dealing with their part of a nationwide drug epidemic, along with many other crimes on our Boundary. It would be a sad commentary and cop-out (pardon the pun) for us if we must pull desperately-needed, highly-trained manpower to babysit the downtown traffic.
Why not ask the tribal leadership to consider and approve the installation of traffic cameras? Smaller municipal budgets than ours have ticketing systems attached to computers and traffic cameras that can automatically identify a tag number and issue a citation. Nearly the entire process is automated. If the Tribe is looking for a revenue stream, money from those citations would add up to a nice chunk of change.
Does that sound extreme to you? Maybe make you a little uncomfortable or angry? I would say that what will be extreme, uneasy and enraging, will be when an innocent child, special needs or elderly person is maimed or mangled by a vehicle driven by a person who is trying to shave a few seconds off their commute or is rushing to get their family to the restaurant or Island Park.
I get that most of us have gone through the Jeff Gordon driving school and think our reflexes and razor-sharp minds are so good that we can maneuver obstacles and stop on a dime. But, what if we are wrong just one time and we seriously injure or kill someone? It can happen. It has happened; right here on the Boundary. And, two sets of families get to live with the consequences of our ineptitude when a tragedy happens – the family of the person in front of the vehicle and the family of the person behind the wheel.
No meeting, meal, or vacation is worth risking the possibility of hurting or killing another person. If you must, make apologies and take the consequences of being late. You will sleep much better doing that than having to live with the consequences of a death caused by your negligence. Slow down.