Last year, as a newcomer, I poked fun at Lawrence drivers, giving my impression of their habits as well as the imponderables of Lawrence streets. Back then, I riled a lot of people, and the online forum lit up like the Fourth of July. Some folks were pretty upset at my "criticism" of Lawrence slowpokes who insisted on driving 25 mph in 45 mph speed limit stretches such as South Iowa, as well as my musing on courtesy at four-way stops - you go first, no YOU go first - and their screeching to a halt for pedestrians to cross on Massachusetts.
It was my second column, and some folks didn't get my sense of humor back then. Some literal-minded readers didn't understand that I was in fact complimenting Lawrence drivers. That was partly my fault because I took out one critical sentence at the end to shorten a too-long column. That deleted sentence went something like this: "Now, for the first time in years, I no longer arrive home a nervous wreck from a simple drive to the grocery store."
I was writing from the perspective of someone who had just endured 20 years of exceptionally rude drivers in the Washington, D.C., area. By the way, I just returned from a week there, and for the record, the Capitol Beltway is still the highway to hell, and Washington is still one of the rudest places on earth.
Quite a few Lawrencians predicted I'd change my tune once I'd been here a while. So, I thought it might be interesting to compare my view of Lawrence drivers and roads now that a year has passed.
1. I no longer strain to go the 45 mph speed limit on Iowa or get irritated at the drivers who pace themselves at 30 mph. I just go 30 along with everyone else. So what if I hit every light red. I have accepted what one wise online reader pointed out, that people naturally go the speed at which they feel safe, regardless of the posted limit. He was on to something. However, I hope traffic officials don't decide to lower the limit to the speed most drivers chose. In the early morning hours when I'm off to the airport and the only one on the road, it feels great to sail down Iowa at 45 mph, hitting every light green all the way to the toll road.
2. I still think they need a light at 31st and Louisiana. At rush hour I have counted lines 20 cars deep in three directions, waiting to get through the four-way stop. Where do you all get such patience?
3. What's with the sand? I watched an accident occur on 31st street when a driver skidded on the sand. Ice seems safer - at least you are expecting to skid.
4. Loads of places, such as westbound Ninth Street at Iowa and various points along 19th Street, to name a few, have "unmarked" left turn lanes. The painted arrows have long since disappeared. Same for the yellow line dividers. Does anyone know how dangerous that is for newbies who don't "remember" where the lanes are? A little paint would go a long way.
5. I got a speeding ticket on Highway 59, after telling you all that I was too smart to get one since I know about the highway patrol speed trap three miles south of town. I made some smart aleck comment to the effect that I would never go faster than 59 mph on highway 59. Well, they got me. I was going 65, 10 over. Serves me right.
6. One year later, I still believe Lawrence drivers are amazingly polite and pedestrian-friendly compared to the rest of the world. Prevention Magazine says we are the best walking city in Kansas, and one of the best in the nation. While the city planning folks and hearty walkers deserve the credit, drivers also help make it so.
7. As to my admittedly unscientific driver politeness scale, I told you last year that I had heard a horn honk only three times and one of them was me. A year later, I've heard someone lean on a horn only seven times. Yes, I'm actually counting.
And this time I'm writing short so I don't have to cut the last sentence, which is: I still cherish the fact that I can return home relaxed and calm after driving around Lawrence.
(I wish I could say the same thing about column deadline day and the task of disciplining myself to stay within my word limit. It's as hard for me as driving 55 on 59. Now that I've managed to do it, I think I'll go for a relaxing drive.)