"They seem to forget what roads are for." That is what was said, back in 1995, about those of us who had joined together in opposition to the plan to reconstruct Route 8A, from Hawley through Charlemont and Heath, to the Vermont border. It was a plan of a scale and cost unprecedented in the history of the three towns; a plan of incalculable social and environmental significance; a plan envisaging nothing short of the creation of a major highway, a high-speed inter-State corridor, through our West County community.
Do we forget what roads are for? Now, we certainly do not forget what roads are for.
We have not forgotten that roads are not just for cars and trucks and other motorized vehicles. They are also for people. People live on roads. And on rural roads people walk and jog and cycle and roller-blade. Kids in our Town, in growing numbers, are electing to bike to and from school, when the weather permits. On rural roads, people meet and chat. Their children and domestic animals sometimes venture on to the roads, in pursuit of an errant kite or soccer ball.
We have not forgotten that streets and roads do not exist in isolation from their surroundings; and that they pass through a landscape full of people, who are somewhere rather than going somewhere.
No, we have not forgotten what roads are for.
It is our misfortune that the people who are responsible for the design of our roads, the highway engineers, have for the most part forgotten what roads are for. For many years now, the design of American roads has essentially been governed by the narrow engineering criteria set out in what is called the AASHTO Green Book. This is the Bible of the highway engineer. Its paramount goal in road design is to "provide operational efficiency, comfort, safety and convenience for the motorist." That is a quote from the Green Book. Such matters as the convenience of pedestrians and bicyclists, and the effects of roadway projects on the environment and communities, are secondary.
It is, accordingly, all the more important for the rest of us never to forget what roads are for. Roads are for people.
To those of you who occasionally, or regularly, travel up or down 8A past my house, I would like to suggest that you look from time to time at the handsome center-Cape house on the west side of the roadway, with its equally handsome white fence. Kathy and Bob Hanlon and her children live there, together with their dogs, ducks, guinea-fowl, hens and roosters and...