Our Killing Roads

"We shouldn't be here." So remarked a grieving Baysider this week outside the funeral home in which Shane Gessford, 22, lay dead. She was so right, so painfully right.

The news of highway deaths hits us these days with numbing frequency. Shane, of Friendship, died on the same stretch of Route 2 near South River Clubhouse Road where, just three days earlier, Arlene Huntley was killed on her way to a meeting at her church.

It is especially sad to see young lives snuffed because we never will know what direction they would have taken or what joy they would have spread. Shane graduated from Southern High, near where he died, and attended Maryland Institute-College of Art. He was an artist and painter and was working at present at Chesapeake Bagel Bakery in the Annapolis Harbour Center.

Highway deaths may be numbing, but we must talk about them if we hold out hope of preventing them. If we think and talk, we might begin to understand that these deaths are symptoms of a larger problem.

People have perished on our roads since the advent of the automobile but not in the numbers that we are seeing in Chesapeake Country today. Speed and congestion accelerated by sprawl makes for a deadly combination that threatens each of us each time we leave home.

These tragedies remind us that we must rethink the basics of driving every day. It may sound preachy but we must stay alert and ultra cautious at all times, especially when we enter highways or leave them. No matter where we're going or where we've been - even church - we're especially vulnerable at entering or leaving a traffic flow that's typically speeding along well over 50mph.

Second, it's a fact that most of us are revving our engines, externally and internally, so much faster now to get to all of our jobs and our obligations. Nevertheless, we must slow down, despite the pressures we face, and leave those mobile phones turned off so as not to be distracted.

There's a personal element and a public element to considering highway tragedy. Life in Chesapeake Country has changed and is changing even more. So many of us have deposited ourselves in enclaves along the Bay or in rural ranchettes that we drive much more than did our parents and grandparents.

In our search for high-quality living, we've settled farther away from our schools and our centers of commerce. But we must ask ourselves if this is healthy. Have we reached a point that we are diminishing the length as well as the quality of our lives by allowing our communities to sprawl ever outward?

Should we think about building our roads and routing our traffic so as to separate local drivers - and preserve our rustic rural roads - from commuters, as the Edgewater Small Area Planning Committee recommends? Finally, must we think more seriously about the value of mass transit and inter-community buses rather than always thinking in terms of personal vehicles?

When government and civic planners think about development and transportation for the new millennium, they must consider not just how we live but how, all too often, we die.

| Issue 34 |

Volume VII Number 34
August 26 - September 1, 1999
New Bay Times

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