Have you ever wondered if your mind is playing tricks on you?
That happened to me today as I was driving to the gym. On a road that I’ve driven on hundreds, if not thousands of times over the past decade I passed a speed limit sign that proudly displayed 35 MPH. I thought to myself, “That looks odd. Isn’t the speed limit 40 MPH?” As it turns out, it was. Thank goodness I wasn’t losing my mind. I found out later people had complained about the speed limit and cajoled their city council representative to lower the speed limit.
But this story isn’t about such an obvious attempt to slow drivers down. This story is about a far more subtle approach to the same issue that was used by a friend of mine in a city far, far away. The people at the other city wanted to solve the same issue, but took a different approach.
I noticed it when I went back to that city, the place I had grown up. I was driving along thinking, “Wow, this place seems smaller than I remember it.” It’s not an unusual thing to see something as an adult, they remember from childhood, and think the same thing. Even the roads seemed smaller.
A couple of days later I was having lunch with a friend of mine who was serving as the city manager. I shared my experience with him about things seeming smaller now that I was grown up, compared to when I was a kid, including the roads. He smiled and said, “It’s not in your head. It’s real.”
I looked at him with a puzzled expression and jokingly asked if he had the power to shrink things down. He answered, “Yes.” That had me puzzled.
He went on to explain that they had started a campaign to reduces traffic speed (and hopefully accidents too) several years ago. But instead of lowering speed limits, they took a different approach.
He told me that whenever a road was repaved or resurfaced and new lines were drawn for the lanes they changed things just a bit. They narrowed the lanes. He explained that research had shown that narrowing driving lanes, especially on 4 lane roads, was an effective method of slowing traffic down.
Holy crap! It wasn’t in my head. Things really were smaller.