I live on West Lake Drive and have loved this road since I first moved to Athens 20 years ago. But it terrifies me. The hills and curves and arching trees that make this narrow road the most beautiful in Athens also severely limit visibility. As a result, the posted speed limit is only 30 miles per hour. Few seem to recognize this.
Yesterday I watched bystanders remove the unconscious body of a young man from a flaming SUV that had just slammed into a tree across from my house (For those wondering why I didn’t help get the victim from the vehicle, I was busy extinguishing the fire.) I do not know what caused this tragic crash, but I would be shocked if excessive speed was not a major contributing factor. This was not the first serious accident on this road in recent months, and it won’t be the last.
Day and night, I watch people driving 40 or 50 mph along West Lake. I wince each time I see a cyclist or jogger climbing the hill or a deer crossing the road, waiting with bated breath to see if cars slow down. Rarely does a week go by that I don’t wake up to a dead animal in the road, tire tracks through my neighbors’ yards or a mangled mailbox due to a careening car.
It’s rare to observe someone driving the speed limit on West Lake. They are easy to spot, because they are invariably trailed by a line of angry drivers craning their necks to see who has the audacity to drive the speed limit and keep them from getting to Alps Road just a little bit sooner. From Lumpkin Street to Baxter Street is 1.4 miles along West Lake. Driving the speed limit, this takes less than three minutes. Going 40 mph saves you 42 seconds; doing 50 shaves off another 25 seconds. Perhaps I’m wrong—maybe the need to get to Starbucks or Steinmart 42 seconds sooner is worth risking your life and those of your fellow citizens and resident wildlife—but I doubt it.
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