Luskin: Bridge Etiquette

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(Host) Novelist, essayist and educator Deborah Lee
Luskin had time to think about the civic value of Vermont’s single
lane bridges while waiting to cross one.

(Luskin) In order to drive almost anywhere from my
house, I have to cross one of three single-lane bridges. To head
west, I cross the Williamsville Covered Bridge. The current bridge was recently rebuilt, after much
civic debate.There were good arguments for replacing the antique
bridge with a modern, two-lane span that would accommodate larger
trucks.But in the end, the aesthetic appeal, the traffic
calming, and the money for historic preservation prevailed. It’s a very short bridge on a secondary road with a
stop sign at one entrance. There’s rarely a wait to cross.

 More frequently, I head south to Brattleboro, and cross
the cement arch bridge that connects my village to the state highway,
two miles away. This bridge was built in 1934 and is now in terrible

The day before Irene, the cement arch bridge was rated
one of the worst in the state. But the day after the storm it was
still standing. For three weeks – while a newer bridge on Route 30
was out of commission – this bridge was the single, tenuous,
connection between Brattleboro and points north. 

During the morning and evening commutes, traffic flows
either toward Brattleboro or back again. There are clear sight lines
from all approaches, and drivers easily figure out whose turn it is
to cross next.

The third bridge is the Dummerston Covered Bridge,
which I cross when I head east, and here taking turns is more
problematic. This is a long, single-lane bridge that connects the
West River Valley to the Connecticut River Valley – where the
interstate is. The bridge handles a fair bit of traffic that can back
up while motorists each take their turn. Cars approach it from four
directions, and sight lines aren’t the best. 

Most motorists do the polite thing, and alternate one
from each side, even when traffic is backed up. The good humor with
which drivers take turns is remarkable. They more frequently flash
high beams to give someone else a turn than honk in irritation. Only
rarely will two cars enter from opposite sides at the same time, so
that one has to back up.

A friend recently complained that even though
alternating one car from each side is polite, it isn’t efficient.
People on both sides have to wait longer when cars take turns. Not
only does this increase the wait, he argues, but it also increases
carbon emissions. It would be more environmentally sound if everyone
crossed from one side, before cars from the other took their turn. 

I’m sure my friend is right.

But every time I have to wait my turn at this bridge,
I’m encouraged to see strangers on opposites shores work together.
The extra fumes from drivers figuring out how to negotiate their turn
to cross the river that divides them from their destinations don’t
seem so bad when compared to the toxic fumes emitted from either side
of the aisle in Congress. Hardliners from both parties might benefit from a short
driving tour through the Dummerston Covered Bridge.

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