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Branching Out: Avoiding common tragedy

Locations: Columns, Opinion Published

It’s a universal gesture, from mother elk to geese to humans. With your little one trailing along, as you cross an opening in a forest, a pathway or road, mamas will look into the new terrain to scope it out and then look back at their young. Look back at the opening or road, and look back again at their young. This glance dance does two things. First, it affirms the safety of the gosling, fawn, child. Two, it signals outwardly that there are little ones still coming along.

Crossing Second Street to our truck parked at KDNK, I saw the Audi sedan turn onto our street. I looked at them, and looked back at my child, who was engrossed in her Ball jar of woolly bears. I turned back to the Audi, to double confirm, and it was practically on top of us, having punched it up Second Street despite me standing in the street. Despite the glance I gave them and then my daughter.

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As they blew past at about 30 mph (half a block from Main Street), I hollered at Juniper to get back and flung my arms wide at the Audi, in shock. They didn’t even tap the brakes.

In my F250 last week, I cleared the roundabout on 133 and easily had the hole shot into the single lane towards shopping errands at City Market. But from far behind me, an Audi SUV guns past in my single lane and then, of course, immediately brakes and turns into City Market, no signals. I pull up next to him, get out, walk up to him, and just stare at him, my arms spread again, in absolute disbelief: “Are you kidding me?” With three children in his car, he looks at me and answers, “What? What do you mean?”

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A few days ago, I heard honking — who honks in Carbondale?

A 60-something woman barked from her Volkswagen, “Make up your damn mind! Just turn!”

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This wave of instantaneous driver aggression is shattering our chill Bonedale vibe.

People mention the “carrying capacity of ecosystems.” Towns have carrying capacities, too, and it feels we’ve crossed that line when you look at it through the lens of our town streets. Tensions are running high: COVID migrators, an explosion of development and new big-box impacts. So much “overnight” change in a mere year or so. Our streets connect all of this.

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Our thoroughfares, be it a road, a trail, Main Street — are our “public commons,” terrain we all must and get to share. How we each choose to carry ourselves on Eighth Street or Sopris Avenue or 133, directly and indirectly impacts everyone.

“Tragedy of the commons” is an environmental concept applied to situations where “the people” each and all have access to common resources. Some people/drivers act solely with regards to themselves — or their own immediate needs — and deplete or ruin the common resource. In this case, street life; our downtown energy; peace and safety in parking lots; or simply, the relaxed way of life we’ve cherished for decades.

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The tragedy of the commons explains how individuals, like the guy in the Audi or the lady in the VW, act selfishly, regardless of the negative impact they have on the rest of us. These kinds of drivers don’t care if revving their engine hurts people’s ears, or triggers high blood pressure. Speeding on quiet side streets, they don’t think about hitting a family cat, or maiming a neighborhood buck. They don’t care if idling makes someone sick, or triggers an asthma attack. They don’t care.

The tragedy of the commons also posits that people justify their uncool moves because they don’t think other people can act in the best interest of the collective.

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That’s not true in Carbondale.

For the last 15 years, I have always known Carbondale to be a pretty sweet walkable, bikeable town. For the first five years of Juniper’s life, it was her in a Chariot, me on a beater bike and our Golden, Zoë, on a leash in my hand. We could cruise all over town with nary an issue. Never a honk. And certainly never a close call.

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Try it out, new people. See what it’s like to slow the ef down. Make eye contact with other drivers and bikers. Check out the vibes, sharing waves and grins with the faces you see everywhere. Dig the warm fuzzies when you let other drivers chat for a moment, or how it feels to pause for a kid on a bike.

The streets are our commons; the living, breathing connective tissue of our community. Let’s nurture that. I truly believe we won’t feel quite as much pressure on the carrying capacity if we refuse the tragedy of the commons.

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Tags: #Carbondale #growth #politeness #Traffic
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