Slow it Down

The safety of our roadways requires your help

By Mike Jopek

I was on my way home from market. I tend to drive slow. Today was a long day of harvesting and then hawking the produce we grow.

The Mercedes must have been doing 80 as it passed the van along the narrow rural street. The plates read Canada. I muttered and honked the horn. It felt good. I wasn’t going that slow, like 30, which is kinda the limit anyway.

The cutoff road behind the highway Coffee Traders has long been a route around busy Whitefish. It’s a hilly and winding road with no room for walkers. Yet it remains a popular county road for people walking dogs, riding bikes or running to get some exercise. The views and wildlife along the way are fantastic.

I haven’t come to terms with how busy roads feel. I don’t know if I can. I don’t think it matters if I do. The cars are here, more are coming, and they seem bigger in size every year. Some days the roadways feel normal, like yesterdays or late falls and early springs.

Weeks later the highway patrol car was parked next to the mailbox of the farm. I stopped to say hello as I checked the daily mail. The patrolman was really friendly and said he was doing an honesty check on someone who sped down the road.

Suddenly we were talking about silage tarps and the large garden he tilled up for his wife. We talked about hoophouses and rural lifestyles. It felt good to share a few insights into gardening with Montana’s finest. They keep our roadways safe.

Karrow Avenue has long been a hot spot for speeders. The county should add pedestrian ways along the road. That seems unlikely, as pedestrian planning is essentially non-existent in our large and rural county. At least that’s how it feels on rural streets.

People heavily use our public county roads. We ride bikes and we walk. Often we drive to work and run errands. All too much we feel in a hurry. And unfortunately, it seems, the people visiting our hometowns drive like they learned their skills on the big-city highways.

The streets in the city of Whitefish feel different. People still drive too fast and there are many cars trying to get about. But the difference is the abundant sidewalks, bike paths, trails, and pedestrian crossings. More key crossings are warranted.

Town is quite pedestrian friendly. It’s partially what makes downtown Whitefish such a fantastic place for locals to live and a great destination for out-of-towners. The city has done a decent job assuring that everyone shares our public streets.

Parking in town is not a problem for anyone willing to walk a couple blocks. Soon that will change as town goes from 1 to 2 million visitors annually.

The traffic backs up often, not always. The ways into and out of town are clogged at busy times of day and year. Some traffic signals feel as though engineers run them from Helena. Left turns, like at city hall heading toward the mountain, can be brutal.

Patience, the engineers know what their doing. The city is fortunate that tourist taxes help pay to fix roads, pedestrian ways and conserve the watershed.

The county has no real funding to pay for road improvements, past the local taxpayer. Sure, the counties receive road money and millions from the feds for public lands in the area, but that slush fund is hardly vast enough to fix a transportation mess in a land area greater in size than the state of Connecticut.

The safety of our roadways requires your help. Slow down is the only solution. It’s what the highway patrol want. Our families deserve safe routes to travel.

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