Get away from my lawn

Boston suburbs post “do not enter” and “no right turn” signs effective during morning rush hour to protect residents from having to watch nonresidents drive past. Here’s a little secret about those “gated community” ordinances: police rarely enforce them. Signs are cheap. Police officers are not and they have better things to do.

I wrote about one privileged community in Newton, Massachusetts a few years ago. Nearby Belmont has a lot of them. And now, one more. Last year, people driving into the center of town on Prospect Street in the morning discovered that a right turn onto Ernest Road was a time-saver. The usual complaints followed.

“We counted dozens of cars cutting through between 8:00–8:30,” one resident wrote. That means it’s a low volume road, with less than 100 cars during peak hour, a tenth of what the roads on either end carry. To town officials it was a problem anyway.

They posted a right turn prohibition to discourage commuters, and a stop sign at a sharp bend in the road to slow them down. There has never been a crash at that turn that would justify considering a stop sign. The town engineer said a stop sign was justified because people weren’t stopping and it was obvious they should stop. That is circular reasoning, not a warrant analysis. Under state rules, it’s an illegal traffic-calming stop sign. (All traffic-calming stop signs are illegal in Massachusetts, even if traffic count and crash warrants are met.)

But it’s not likely you’ll be pleading your case to the traffic court magistrate in Cambridge. The real obstacle to taking that turn is potholes.

Commuting time coincides with children going to school. There is one police officer in that part of town during morning commute. He has to keep track of about ten “keep off our road” signs, school zones, and the main commuter roads. He has to respond to calls. The chief may send that officer to the road with the loudest complaints, but he can’t summon nine more officers to watch the other nine signs.

In ten years, commuting be be a whole different story. More towns are posting surveillance cameras. It’s getting harder to buy a car that doesn’t have the ability to phone home and report everywhere you drive.

Some day town officials will go through those records and send you 200 tickets, one for every time you drove on one of those not-really-public roads in the past year. In some states, cities will fine you for driving too often without a city sticker.

On second thought, town officials won’t do it themselves. A data mining company will offer a service to the town same as ticket cameras do now. The company writes the tickets, the company adjudicates guilt, and the town keeps a share of the profit.

And finally every road will be a private road and nobody will drive past anybody else’s house.

The opinions expressed in this post belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of the National Motorists Association or the NMA Foundation. This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of this post or the included links.

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