Fast talk


I’m just speaking anecdotally here, but I think the most effective traffic control device in the valley is that old, barely running purple police car that the Winthrop Marshal’s Office parks next to the ball field during our high-occupancy season.

How many times have we seen incoming motorists mash the brakes when they spot the car, which is staffed only by a grinning mannequin in a cowboy hat who mocks them as they sheepishly creep by.

Maybe visitors only get fooled once, and then stop to have a photo taken with the vehicular equivalent of Barney Fife. But they do slow down, and then it becomes evident to the most lead-footed driver that there’s no point in trying to speed through Winthrop by the only route most of them will ever know: Highway 20.

So last week as I listened to the Winthrop Town Council and several residents discuss – as if they were just all sitting around the mayor’s living room, without the benefit of Roberts’ Rules – how to “calm” traffic on Castle Avenue, I was wondering: Who are you trying to slow down?

Us, it seems.

Most tourists, even if they find their way to the Shafer Museum, are not using Castle Avenue as an arterial. But a lot of valley residents do, especially in the summer when they know it can be an easier alternative than crawling along Riverside Avenue – or any time of year if they are coming into town by way of Twisp-Winthrop Eastside Road. It’s awfully tempting to just slingshot up that hill.

And when you do that, you are flying by the homes of quite a few residents who have every good reason to resent it. Some of them were at the council meeting to talk about that.

The broader issue at the council meeting was whether the town should deploy those digital speed read-out signs that tell you how fast you are going – or, to be more blunt, how much you are over the speed limit. The intent is to strike the law-abiding chord deep within us, so we will conform ourselves to legal behavior. There was some talk of surrounding the town with the signs, which didn’t seem to have too much support.

Many of the people who would encounter such a perimeter of deterrence would be locals. So how effective or even necessary would that be? Many of us – and I count myself among them – obey the speed limits inside the town limits already. I think it’s a matter of respect for where you live.

At the same time, we all know how thinly stretched our local law enforcement agencies are. Anyone who lives and drives here knows where they park to point the radar gun. Which means that if we pass a Winthrop patrol car (a real one) at the east end of town, we know that’s the only officer on duty in town right then, and theoretically we could stomp it without much fear of court time.

But most tourists don’t know that – so why not give them a friendly reminder on either end of Highway 20’s Winthrop corridor?

At the council meeting, there was a lot of friendly give-and-take about the speed-indicator signs, and whether they would work in a residential neighborhood or be too much of a bother, or whether speed bumps might be better. The funniest moment came when an audience member asked if it would work to simply paint the speed limit on the pavement. Council member Rick Northcott, in a clear reference to the town’s Westernization rules, said that would work only if the lettering was in an approved typeface.

Something is likely to come out of the discussions, if only because the current road improvement project on Castle Avenue is just going to make it nicer to drive fast on. The sentiment seemed to lean toward something less intrusive than a flashing sign.

As for those folks who are blithely driving 45 mph on Highway 20 between towns, on a clear day with dry pavement and light traffic – well, that’s a tirade for another day.