Wider road plan seems a narrow idea

When is it time to form a neighborhood protective society? You do that when the town government is about to do something really stupid and you have to get in their collective face before anything happens. After the fact, it will be too late.

The “Hollenbeck Avenue Protective Association” will be open to almost everyone who cares about the future of our neighborhood. If neighbors seeking inclusion insist, it might be called the “Around Hollenbeck Avenue Protective Association.” I believe in awarding access to pretty much anybody who wants to join.

Why should you care about Hollenbeck Avenue? Well, if it can happen here, it can happen in your neighborhood, too.

Here’s what’s happening around Hollenbeck Avenue in Great Barrington.

There are forces among the town’s civil servants and politicians that want to widen the road and turn the beautiful meandering sidewalks into Soviet-type concrete blocks that fit the state specifications. My bet is that while they are busy doing that, they’ll find a way to take substantial land away from those of us who live on the tree-lined street, and cut down some of the beautiful trees.

Why? Because the town government, which claims to be protecting and serving us all well isn’t. Hollenbeck Avenue leads up to Lake Mansfield, one of the town’s most beautiful treasures. Unfortunately, at certain times of the day, Hollenbeck Avenue becomes the Indianapolis Speedway.

That’s possibly because there is an institution on adjacent Christian Hill Road that works on shifts and just about shift change brings with it a series of cars, the same ones almost every day, speeding along, perhaps in order to make the shift. Of course, some of these people drive quite conservatively. There are other drivers who just use the road as a short cut to somewhere else.

Unfortunately, the very fragile, winding road that goes around the lake itself where Hollenbeck turns into Lake Mansfield Road is used by parents pushing baby strollers, bikers, walkers, and runners and you can’t see around the next curve. I can’t tell you the number of times I have been brushed back while walking along the road.

Though a somewhat defensive policeman once told me that there had never been a fatality on the road, it just takes one. I can vouch for the fact that there have been a number of near misses. Just the other day, I saw a lovely older grandmotherly lady shaking her fist at one of the morons who drove past her in a sporty car, smoking a cigarette. I was on the other side of the road.

The wonderful Lake Mansfield Association did manage to get “Share the Road” signs up there but these are often ignored by some very angry people on their way to work. Maybe they are angry because they are on their way to work.

Now the bureaucrats and a few misguided selectmen want to widen the road where it gets narrower near the town. It’s a complicated intersection with a series of intervening roads and can be confusing drivers entering the intersection from the cross streets. The narrowing road on Hollenbeck actually forces people to slow down. That’s good. It’s sort of like a speed bump.

The last thing we want to do is make that road wider, which will certainly lead to carnage as that road suddenly, without warning, ends. The brilliant selectman, Sean Stanton, has made it clear that for the reasons above, he does not want to see road being widened. He correctly says, “Let them slow down.” I hope the bureaucrats won’t be able to push the selects around.

Recently, one of the members of the proposed “AHAPA (Around Hollenbeck Avenue Protective Association, in case you forgot)” asked me why bureaucrats widen roads in a dangerous fashion and do things that the residents don’t want.

“Because,” I said, “they can.”

In other words, give a surgeon a scalpel and they will use it. Give a bureaucrat a chance to do whatever it takes to justify his existence and they will — even if it will cause discomfort to many. Now we will have to use a lot of unnecessary energy to confront these people and tell them we don’t want to see this happen. It may not actually come to pass but when the history books are written, it will be noted that something called the Around Hollenbeck Avenue Protective Association was formed.

No one will remember why.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 6/26/10

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