Walking on the wild side, in Altamont

When I started writing this column back in January or February, things were, shall we say, a little different. But, as I opened this up more recently and reread it, an awful lot of my original thoughts still make sense. Well to me, anyway.

With more folks at home, the number of people out walking every day has grown tremendously, and that’s a wonderful thing amid all the current stress and insanity. However, my original intent was to point out that all is not exactly perfect for walkers in our little corner of the world. So, hear me out and see what you think.

We live in a village where people walk. You see people walking with friends, family, dogs, babies, children, and so on. My wife and I walk frequently. We walk six to 10 miles each day year-round and the only days we miss are when conditions are seriously too dangerous (ice, freezing rain, pouring rain, thunder, wild bands of marauding chipmunks). That being said, when you put in the miles, you notice things that you might want to change.

First on the list would be to instruct drivers on the meaning of a double yellow line. While they taught us in drivers’ ed that it means one doesn’t pass in that zone, they also taught us that, when you come upon a person pushing a twin stroller filled with, you know, twins, you do have to give them room.

You can cross that sacred set of lines for the sake of pedestrian safety as long as nobody is barreling down on you in the opposite direction. In fact, you can actually slow down or stop if someone is coming at you to give the pedestrians a fighting chance and then cross the sacred golden lines once the other person has passed. It’s just common sense and good manners but, then again, those are not always in general use.

Another issue in the village is the use of crosswalks. You know the white lines they actually put on the street to show where humans can legally cross the street?

In other states, the law has been on the books longer and drivers are better trained. In Massachusetts, I’ve had drivers stop for me if I even looked at the crosswalk and was considering crossing the street. It was like telepathy! Here in New York, the law is newer and also not very well enforced, so things are different.

My understanding is that drivers must stop at a crosswalk and allow a human to cross if they are already in the crosswalk. That seems logical as it would likely result in many injuries if drivers just kept going if you were already in the crosswalk.

Personally, I would like to see more drivers stop if they see you clearly intent on using the crosswalk. I wish I had a nickel for every SUV that blew right through as my wife and I stood at the side of the crosswalk with a stroller filled with grandbabies waiting to cross. Just a thought, folks. Again, good manners.

Another issue in our fair village is speed. The village proper has a very clearly marked 30-mile-per-hour speed limit that our fine Altamont Police Department actually attempts to enforce now and again. But, since it’s a part-time group of folks, people know they are free to speed at certain hours.

For instance, folks coming down off the hill on Western or Bozenkill in the early morning have a tendency to go just below Mach 2 a lot of the time. I realize gravity pulling those huge pickup trucks and large four-wheel-drive vehicles does tax one’s brakes but, then again, you’d actually have to use the brakes to know that.

Another issue is the safety of various surfaces for walking on. During the warmer months, all two of them, it’s generally safe to walk wherever you want.

But, during the cold months, all 10 of them, it can get dicey fast. The worst place to walk in the cold is on the sidewalks. For some reason, they tend to get icy very fast no matter how much the village sends the lawn destroyer, I mean little snowplow/blower, to clean them up.

I think it would probably help if the sidewalks got salted like the roads, but I have no idea about the logistics and cost of such a thing. Suffice it to say the roads are less icy in winter thanks to the liberal use of salt and extensive plowing by the village, county, and state.

On roads with no sidewalks, the shoulder is where you’re forced to go but, in reality, that can also be a real issue due to the condition of many of said shoulders. On the boulevard, the shoulder on the left heading out of the village is excellent and actually has sidewalks till just past Altamont Oaks. Past that, it’s small, but not bad most of the way down to Brandle.

But on many roads, the shoulder is a mess of broken pavement, car parts, broken glass, garbage, and dirt that makes for a less-than-safe surface to walk on. Thus, drivers need to cut walkers a bit of slack. Most do, but some larger vehicles seem almost too big to fit in the lane and be able to go wide for walkers without killing someone or running off the road. Well, that’s how they’re driven, anyway.

I know many drivers have a problem with sharing the road but, in the current situation, they have to, since so many of our walkers are newbies. Also, if the world does choose to end, a la Mad Max, then there will be far more walkers than giant modified hell vehicles. I won’t even get into the treatment of bicycles and motorcycles except to say they’re largely in the same boat as walkers.

As we all work our way through the pandemic, working from home, schooling from home, and enduring just general nuttiness, I think this is a great time for drivers to really rethink how they act on the road with regards to other users. We really all can peacefully coexist, and we really should work toward that.

After all, if the zombies or the hell vehicles come marching up Main Street one day, we’ll need our friends and neighbors more than ever. How is that going to work if they’ve all been run over by pickup trucks, SUVs, and little sports cars? 

And getting away from hyperbole; once things settle (and they will), people will still want to walk in Altamont and we should all work toward making that a safe and happy pastime, as it should be.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg and his wife have collectively logged an estimated 137,000 walking miles in the past 27 years. They have every intention of continuing.