Departing Chief, Mayor Have Kept Us Safe

I have seen thousands of school zones in 54 years of driving and living in several locales in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

I slow down when I enter a school zone and the “15 MPH” sign is flashing.

But in all honesty, I don’t believe that I ever slowed all the way down to 15 mph unless I was behind other vehicles crawling along at that seems-like-walking speed.

In Brookville, we do slow down. The alternative is a citation – every time.

I like it.

I am regularly on Jenks Street, driving past Hickory Grove Elementary School and Brookville High School, when the flashing signs are lit. I touch the brakes, and then some. I pull the gear selector out of “D,” and down to second gear. My car putts along without much adjustment by me at about 15 mph.

More often than not, a vehicle or two are ahead of me, well into the school zone. I’m at 15 mph, and I don’t gain ground or fall behind those vehicles putting along 50 or 100 feet ahead of me.

So it is not just me. We all slow down to 15 mph in Brookville, whereas in other areas, we ease off the accelerator but don’t go that slowly.

In Brookville, there are several reasons. Two of them are Ken Dworek and Chip Wonderling, police chief and mayor, respectively. They have been backed up by members of Brookville’s borough council, who have listened calmly, but rebuffed, the whining, yelling, carping, crying and general raising a fuss that accompanies the police department’s policy that, in school zones, “15 means 15.”

I like that policy.

I like it because kids don’t get hit by motor vehicles.

A quarter-mile to the west, the road beneath Interstate 80 is a wide-open five-lane stretch, called Allegheny Boulevard. On Allegheny Boulevard, with its cross traffic, retail stores and close to a dozen fast-food places, the speed limit is 35 mph.

There, “35 means 35.” You might not get pulled over at 36, but you will get pulled over and cited at 40 mph, or sometimes at 39.

Why?

That cross-traffic is not just cars and trucks. With two big truck stops along Allegheny Boulevard, it is common to see people on foot, sometimes just a guy who drives truck, but also the guy’s wife, a kid, a leashed dog, maybe an entire family. Their tractor-trailer is parked in the lot at one of the truck stops, but somebody’s hunger is urging them across the boulevard to taste the food at another truck stop.

Five lanes is a lot of highway to cross, even at the intersections where there are traffic signals.

Not everybody walks to the traffic signals before crossing.

That’s illegal. It’s chancey. But it is understandable.

And when human flesh is thumped by vehicle metal, people get hurt.

So the police department enforces the 35 mph speed limit, and the mayor and council stand behind the decisions. So do the district judges who hear the appeals.

On Allegheny Boulevard, “35 means 35.”

I like it.

As it happens, the policies will come up for review, openly or sub rosa, before the year is out. Dworek and Wonderling are stepping down after decades of service.

No doubt, the people who think that their desire to get from Point A to Point B in a hurry should trump local or state speed limits because … well, because those folks think they are better than the rest of us … will tell Brookville’s elected leaders to seek a new police chief who will be more “understanding.”

I hope they don’t do that.

I don’t know too many cops who are “understanding” while trying to hold a child’s skull together long enough for the paramedics to arrive at an accident scene.

But police departments reflect the desires of their communities as expressed through their elective leaders. Some like leniency. Some like laxity. Some like prosecution. Some like persecution.

I do think that, in fairness to non-residents, Brookville could put up a few “Hey! Hereabouts, 35 really does mean 35!” signs along Allegheny Boulevard. In the school zones, I think the 15 mph limit is clearly “posted” by the crawl-along speed of local drivers.

This former Brookvillean, current area resident, and frequent customer of that borough’s goods and services, hopes that Brookville’s leaders will choose to keep things the way they are as they fill the police chief’s job.

The alternative is screeching brakes, crumpling metal, anguished cries and wailing sirens.

To Ken Dworek and Chip Wonderling: Thanks, fellas. You kept us safe.

And to the rest of us, y’know, we have managed quite nicely to get from Point A to Point B in good time, without putting school kids or boulevard users at undue risk.

I like it.

Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: denny2319@windstream.net.