By Ted Potrikus
I get a kick out of the ROUGH ROAD sign on I-88 west, just past the Worcester exit. The overused “Thanks, Captain Obvious” comes to mind as my car frame rattles through the next dozen miles of highway that, atmy most charitable, I refer to as ‘rough.’
Closer to home, I look forward to the LED radar speed limit signs that tell me precisely how fast I am going as I enter Cooperstown’s village limits. I do not discount their value, particularly for those of us who occasionally may be prone to a lead foot. I’d rather not run a story in this newspaper about how its editor got pinned for going 40 in a 30 or some such. Those signs — at every main road entry to the village — provide wise guidance for our out-of-town visitors who may need the reminder that they’re not on the Garden State Parkway so it might be a good idea to tap the brakes.
But they sure are rude. The one on Route 28 as you’re driving into town — I get that the village speed limit is 30, but if I’m going 31 — 31! —do you have to shout — in all capital letters — WARNING? Same on 80 out by The Farmers’ Museum — TOO FAST, it barks as I brake from my tire-shredding 35 down to 30.
I’m not sure of the accuracy of their calibration, to be honest. I like a brisk morning walk around the village; my path one day last week took me down Walnut Street after turning left off of Chestnut. I keep a pretty good pace and, as I strode past the radar sign by the elementary school, it clocked me at 18 miles an hour. No, there were no cars driving by at the same time in either direction and no — let me assure you — I’ve never walked or run at 18 miles an hour in my life.
Tut-tutting speed limit signs ought to shoot out a little congratulatory spray of confetti (biodegradable, of course) each time the driver nails the speed limit right on the mark. Not 31, not 29 — but if the driver hits 30, the sign gives the driver some props beyond the tepid little “thank you” that just sounds so half-hearted.
As a devout pedestrian, I have a love/hate relationship with the signs dotting crosswalks on Chestnut Street in Cooperstown and several Oneonta streets reminding drivers that they must stop for pedestrians inside the crosswalk. It’s a fine state law that goes beyond mere courtesy; if the peds are doing what they’re supposed to do by using the crosswalk, then the drivers should do what they’re supposed to do and let them cross safely.
If you’ve driven around town, though, you know the signs aren’t always where they were the last time you drove past. They’re pretty banged up, too, inanimate victims of drive-bys from drivers who either don’t see them, forget that they’re there, or cut the lane a little too close.
Cooperstown Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh said the signs are the result of a 2019 safety evaluation from the New York State Department of Transportation that led, too, to repainted crosswalks.
“When the state offered the signs, we could’ve said no,” the mayor said. “We’ve had pedestrian accidents in the village and we do take pedestrian safety very seriously. The signs from DOT are designed to break away, they’re supposed to bend if they’ve been hit.”
But the state doesn’t seem too eager to replace the dinged and dented crosswalk signs with new ones.
These and other pedestrian signs stem from the state DOT’s “Pedestrian Safety Action Plan” a report chock-full of alphabet soup acronyms that lays out all manner of rules and recommendations for keeping people safe when they walk. It’s a typically bureaucratic document that can lead the reader down all kinds of hyper-technical rabbit holes but, in summary, offers a decent overview of why signs are where they are and say what they say.
And it’s not rude.