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  full story
Road planners need to listen up

Ron Woodgeard

I  have a confession to make, but first a little background. The background goes back to my youth. Specifically, the fifth grade and my teacher Ms. Nettie Maines at Hooper Alexander Elementary School in Decatur.

This will come as a shock and surprise to some, but I actually have the capacity to annoy people. So, one day it inevitably happened: I annoyed Ms. Maines. She said to me, in part: "You are one of the most 'nonchalant' boys I have ever met. Now, go look up that word and remember it for the rest of your life."

Ms. Maines died long ago. But I'm sure she would be proud to know that I never forgot what nonchalant means. I've been called vile names in my life, including some of the most inspired profanity you can imagine. But compared to my teacher's remark, all other invective pales to insignificance.

So, why am I bringing that word up all these years later? Last Wednesday, the editorial board met with a group of about a dozen representatives of various neighborhood groups here at the paper. They came to talk about the road improvement project that's going on in this town. And they are not happy people.

To me, one of their most serious accusations against local political leaders and their hired hands, the engineers, can be summed up by one of the most damning words in my adult vocabulary, the one Ms. Maines hurled at me. Now, I don't intend in this space to deal comprehensively with every aspect of the series of road improvement projects.

But I will say that we at the newspaper, from the publisher on down, are determined to do whatever we can to facilitate the discussion over these projects. And we want everyone to know that we welcome comments, whether quips in Straight Talk or on our Internet site or more thoughtful, signed pieces in letters to the editors.

We intend to pursue this story in a thorough manner on the news pages and in commentary. In fact, at the Wednesday meeting, we were justifiably criticized for not doing enough to facilitate public debate. It was clear from the discussion that what is at stake here is much more than just how to move traffic through town. The issues addressed by these citizens speak to just what we want Macon to mean to visitors and residents alike.

As one person pointed out, some of these road projects threaten to destroy the heart of what sets this city apart, including the character and quality of its neighborhoods. And implicit in that are our natural surroundings, including the trees that line the streets. If you look at what Vineville Avenue looked like at the turn of the century, it will bring tears to your eyes.

I have three different ways of driving from home in northwest Bibb to downtown. Two of them are faster than the one I use. Why? Because the congestion, noise and traffic speeds scare me away from the faster routes.

As a person said last week, the streets of Charleston and Savannah are not laid out with speed foremost in mind. It's not too immodest to think that Macon is just as appealing as these cities. While the Cherry Blossom Festival is perhaps our most visible time to greet visitors, everyday visits mean more to the city's image over time.

Perhaps it's asking too much for traffic engineers to be mindful of quality of life issues. I think that is changing, but in the meantime we depend on neighborhood groups to protect the integrity of the city. And if the meeting last week is any indication, these groups are going to become far more powerful than at any time in the past.

I heard people who simply will not be manipulated any longer. The days in which a few key people in Macon made all the major decisions in a smoke-filled room are over. The city is demanding a fresh perspective, and if not young blood, at least young ideas. And if that means dragging the current crop of political leaders along kicking and screaming, so be it.

If I learned how not to be nonchalant, anybody can do it.

Ron Woodgeard, editorial page editor, can be contacted at, call 744-4319, or write P.O. Box 4167, Macon, 31213.

*Guest column from Dan Fischer, urban planner: Lack of urban planning ruining road project


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