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Tuesday, August 13, 2013
The Roanoke region is well-known for having some of the most sensitive men in America, as well as for scarfing up more frozen pies per capita than just about anywhere else.
But there’s another distinction that has gone largely unrecognized, another reason for Roanokers’ hearts to swell with pride. The outside world hasn’t hit on it yet, but they will one day soon.
We have some of the slowest drivers in the United States.
I don’t mean highway driving, such as on Interstates 581 (why do they call that an interstate, anyway?) or 81. Rather, it happens on city surface streets, the ones for which the speed limit ranges from 25 to 40 mph.
If you’ve been around this town for any length of time, you know exactly what I mean. It’s difficult to drive on a surface street without encountering other drivers piddling along at a nice-and-safe 5 to 10 mph under the limit.
I call them the Slow Brigade. That’s to differentiate them from the “Count To 10 After The Traffic Light Turns Green” Brigade, and the “Slam On The Brakes In The Merge Lane” Brigade.
One day soon the Slow Brigade will be discovered by out-of-town journalists, who in the past have parachuted in and gleefully jabbed us with descriptors like “gritty former railroad town” or described our restaurants with phrases like “a breakfast that could stun a farmhand.”
They’ll write stories that ask: Why do cars move around Roanoke as slowly as a herd of turtles crawling through molasses? There are a number of possible explanations and we’ll cover a few of them here.
One is, the Roanoke region may have more older drivers than most places. This seems backed up by the U.S. census, which shows the Roanoke Metropolitan Statistical Area is older than most other urban-suburban areas in the country.
As we all know, with age comes wisdom. And with advanced age comes advanced wisdom. Those ultrawise drivers realize it’s utterly reckless to drive 30 mph on Brandon Avenue or on Franklin Road or 25 on Grandin Road or (egads) 40 mph on Peters Creek Road.
Naturally, they slow down to a safer speed. This must infuriate cops bent on meeting their speeding ticket quotas. But it makes the local streets much safer and it helps keep our driving records pristine. So it’s a good thing, and we owe senior drivers our thanks.
Another possibility is that Roanoke has a higher proportion of drivers with eyesight problems. Perhaps when they see a “25” on a speed limit sign, they misread it as “15.” And they drive accordingly, hands gripped tightly on their steering wheels.
There’s evidence to support that notion, too. Consider that Vistar Eye Center here in Roanoke is the second-largest ophthalmology group practice in all of Virginia. Its surgery center on West Main Street in Salem has the busiest eye surgery operating rooms in the state.
Perhaps the city should put up billboards with the speed limit, instead of the puny signs they’ve got now, eh?
My hunch, though, is there’s something else afoot: a subversive mind game being played upon Roanoke drivers by a specific group with an ulterior motive.
No, it’s not the yoga crowd. Sure, they drive slowly — but they’re too blissed out to scheme. I believe it’s the bicyclists. I know because I’m one of them.
We bicyclists also drive cars, you know. And we have discovered that when we deliberately drive very slowly, it frustrates the heck out of motorists behind us.
Sometimes in the rearview mirror you can see them pounding their steering wheels, ho, ho. Or mouthing prayers (or something else) toward the Slow Brigade driver ahead.
When this happens a lot, those aggravated drivers come to a realization: “Darn it! I could get around this town faster on a bicycle!” Which is exactly the point.
The cyclists are engaged in a Pavlov-type conversion exercise. And it’s working. Look almost anywhere. Have you ever seen as many bikes around Roanoke as you do now?
If you’re disinclined to switch to a bike, here’s the alternative: become a member of the Slow Brigade. All you have to do is reduce your car’s speed to 10 mph (or more) under the limit.
You cannot beat them — not on two-lane streets. So you might as well join them. Bonus: Your blood pressure will drop like a rock.
Just plan accordingly for those 25-minute drives from Raleigh Court to downtown Roanoke.
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