Another wrong-way car on Newton Street.
The late, great troubadour Gamble Rogers used to tell the story of his friend Still Bill trying to swap him a dog for a .22 rifle. Gamble said he grew suspicious that the dog was stone blind when, as Bill led it out of the house, it ran headfirst into the door jamb. But Bill assured him, “Gamble, this dog ain’t blind; she just don’t care.”
Sitting here at my Flagpole desk, looking across Prince Avenue at the pedestrian-crossing in front of The Grit and the block of Newton Street alongside that restaurant, I have to wonder if a lot of drivers don’t resemble Bill’s dog.
As anybody who has tried it knows, a lot of people still don’t stop their cars for the flashing lights that indicate you’re trying to cross Prince. People coming from the Grit side have to be extra careful because they’re sort of hidden behind the light pole, and drivers fly through the crossing even if the lights are blinking. As a constant observer of the scene, I can also attest that, for some reason, cars are even less likely to stop when it’s raining.
But here’s a from-the-window observation that, in a way, is even more puzzling. About a year ago, the block of Newton alongside The Grit, from Prince to Meigs, was changed from two-way to one-way going away from Prince Avenue. The change was fairly non-controversial at the time, whereas an alternative proposal to close the street altogether and use it for outdoor dining stirred a lot of opposition.
So, Newton Street remains as a way to jog south and avoid the Pulaski Street intersection or the one up at Barber Street. But people still jog north on Newton, too, even a year after the big Do Not Enter sign was posted at the Meigs Street corner.
So, here I sit, as an Athens citizen, a driver and a journalist—the only designated all-day observer of the pedestrian-crossing and that block of Newton Street. The pedestrian situation will soon be greatly improved, no doubt, when the crossing is moved from in front of The Grit to in front of Taziki’s, where it used to be and where it will be much more visible to those drivers who might want to consider stopping when the flashing lights come on, especially if those lights are more visible than the present blinkers.
What I least understand about my little slice of the Prince Avenue grid is why so many drivers continue to cut through Newton Street the wrong way. Once they get to Prince, they have to pull into the crosswalk in order to see if any cars are coming, and they have to sit there awhile until there’s a gap in the traffic, forcing pedestrians to walk around them. At least six–10 cars a day make this illegal move. Do they just not care about the law, or is there something wrong with the signage over there on Meigs? I have suggested to the traffic folks that maybe the sign is up too high and drivers just don’t see it, but the traffic folks say that if the sign were any lower, pedestrians on the narrow sidewalk alongside Taziki’s would hit their heads on it. The traffic folks have spoken with the police department about this phenomenon, but it is almost impossible to have a car sitting there at the right time to catch a random seven drivers in a 12-hour period. I can say this, though: There are at least 100 cars a day legally using Newton as a shortcut south.
Do the illegal Newton drivers constitute just a small problem caused by a group of people working it out on their own in spite of the law, like smoking an occasional joint? Or is it a small problem that will only be seen as big if there’s a three-way pileup when two people turn into Newton at the same time a driver comes the wrong way and hits a pedestrian?
I guess I’ll just have to sit here and wait for the answer. Meanwhile, as cars fly past the blinking lights and others come through Newton the wrong way, I can only wonder which drivers are blind and which just don’t care.