At the suggestion of the city manager, following my plea for a sidewalk on Swan Lake Avenue, I walked all over Swan Lake Avenue, from my house to Rt. 1, knocking on doors and gathering signatures for a letter requesting that Belfast City Council find a safe walking solution for our road.
In the process, I got a sunburn, got offered more beers than I can count, and learned a thing or two about the priorities and feelings of the people on Swan Lake Avenue.
First, everyone is skeptical of some strange person knocking on the door. I even went to the side doors - no one on this road uses their front door because of the traffic, so when that door gets knocked on you know it's the Jehovah's Witnesses - but people were still initially skeptical. However, as soon as they figured out what I was there for, people wanted to talk to me. They wanted to tell me about their experiences living on their road. I was met with overwhelming support.
The first and only rejections came from a couple of young gentleman in front of a trailer with a confederate flag on it. Yes, I left the "c" in confederate lowercase on purpose. It's a losing team, it's a pro-slavery team, it's a white supremacy team, and it doesn't deserve capitalization. But I digress. Those two gentlemen gave me a lecture about some executive order they were certain that President George H.W. Bush made which evidently gave "foreign entities" "complete control" over every single road in this country. That was interesting, to say the least, but we left on good terms; they even waved and smiled at me as I made my way back.
I had four different people sign who gave me long lectures on how what I was doing was so wonderful but useless, and how they were signing because they liked me but that they wanted me to "be prepared" for the city to "not care" about it. This, of course, only served to steel my purple hippo resolve to get something done.
Every single person I talked to, including the two who weren't interested in signing, expressed fear about walking up and down this road, and genuine concern for the kids who live and walk on this road. Multiple people were concerned about kids walking to the elementary school to play on the playground, and about parents with children having to walk up the road to get to the closest store.
Many people brought up the guy who drives his crotch-rocket that has a high-pitched whine of an engine up and down this road at all hours at speeds far exceeding our speed limit; general consensus is most of us would like to ram him with a car or maybe a bulldozer. Not very diplomatic, of course, and certainly not a solution to suggest to Belfast City Council.
Most importantly, I learned there are many different ideas for solutions. The problem is agreed upon: walking on this road is dangerous, and it is necessary for some residents, including children, to walk on it. While I had initially conceived of a sidewalk as a solution, it's just one solution. I had individuals with an eye for vengeance suggest that instead of sidewalks we install speed bumps every 100 feet or so and hope that drivers pop a few tires to get the message. One person suggested that we place cement blocks inside the shoulder all the way down. Multiple people wanted a bike lane, a sidewalk, flashing lights, and a speed limit decrease, all together.
I have to say, that speed bump idea is appealing. Especially for the crotch rocket driver...
One member of Belfast City Council made a comment to me recently that really resonated - "Think globally, act locally." I know that's a catchphrase of sorts, but I hadn't really given it much thought until I went on my sidewalk crusade. "Swan Lake Needs a Sidewalk," the header of my letter ran. But in fact, Swan Lake Avenue needs a solution, and it is filled with local residents who have ideas. Let's hope that Belfast City Council takes a few of these ideas and runs with them. Can we at least borrow a bulldozer?