tim rowland 9/10/00

September 08, 2000

Kid cruisers, the return of the crows and Wal-Mart's wall

Mayor Bob Bruchey announced this week that he'll seek an ordinance to ban cruising in Hagerstown, the mostly harmless but somewhat annoying habit young drivers have of orbiting Dual Highway and the city's main drags of Franklin, Potomac and Washington streets.

It's easy to sympathize with the intent. Traffic gets terribly tied up at night, something that doesn't particularly bother cruisers, but is a frustration of people actually trying to get someplace. Residents trying to sleep also complain of loud car stereos late at night.

Ironically, the city created some of this problem on its own a number of years back when it banned left turns onto Cannon Avenue, for the very reason it was the popular west-terminus of the cruising loop.

Cruisers simply solved this by continuing past Cannon into the city, closing their loop on Potomac instead. The mayor is correct that cruising is less an annoyance out on the Dual that it is in residential/historic city neighborhoods.


The practice of cracking down on what is basically a legal activity - driving an automobile on a public street - sort of sticks in my craw. If people were driving into Hagerstown three times very two hours to shop, there wouldn't be a problem.

Also, if the law is enacted the result will be greater congregations of kids in Dual Highway parking lots as they wait for their two hours to be up so they can resume the circuit. I'm not sure this is a terribly desirable result either.

But the city does have right to protect the peace and dignity and safety of its residents, so if the noise and congestion can forced out of the downtown, Bruchey is correct to see what he can be done.

Removing the no-left-turn on Cannon may be a start. But ask any parent - they'll tell you that no one can find a loop hole better than teen-agers.

An ordinance might be akin to passing an ordinance banning the crows.

Speaking of crows, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the foul fowl are starting to filter back into town.

I like to think we have something of a bond after all these years, since my car was the obviously the first one they sought out. Made me feel kind of special.

If the crows are getting an early start, it was good to see the city is also getting a jump this year on how to handle them.

With avian viruses being much in the news this year it's extra important to do something about them and their, frankly, unsanitary living habits.

For what it's worth, whatever that grape concoction was that city officials used last year really seemed to work. True, the city smelled like Kool-Aid, but that is a small price to pay. As Hagerstown works to get more homeowners downtown, and plans are pending for museums and art districts, crow removal would go far to make the downtown a far more desirable place to be in the fall and winter.

Another good move by the city, it's becoming clear, is the hiring of Police Chief Arthur Smith. Police presence has increased downtown. (If I'm to be reincarnated I want to come back as a bicycle policeman - it combines two wonderfully gratifying activities: Riding a bike and busting chops).

A couple of interesting innovations presented by Smith should do much to curtail drug activity. He's taking desk officers every so often and putting them on night sweeps. I'm guessing there's an officer's wife or two that might not be too happy about that, but it may help if they know that we appreciate the officer's effort. The chief even managed the time shift without resorting to overtime, which has long been a departmental bugaboo.

Another good initiative is to go after homes that become private havens for drug peddlers.

As the sweeps clean out the open-air dealers, they move inside, generally taking advantage of a woman on public assistance. People who harbor drug dealers need to know that if they house a pusher they can find themselves out of doors.

Housing officials have long recognized the problem, and Chief Smith seems intent on sending this all-important message.

The dealing is bad enough. But there are a number of stories I've heard about the drug trade being plied in front of the kids. The drug culture is sad enough, but out-of-town dealers coming and taking advantage of Hagerstown families is unconscionable.

It might not be unconscionable, but the school board's decision to negotiate in secret with Wal Mart over the height and location of a wall next to Funkstown Elementary is just plain silly.

I wasn't clear. Is the wall to keep kids out of Wal-Mart, or to keep Wal-Mart patrons out of the school?

One of the issues was the height of the wall - six feet or 10. Aren't these elementary school kids? If they can vault a six-foot wall they shouldn't be in school, they should be in the Olympics.

And walls are so impersonal. Maybe instead of building a wall, Wal-Mart could staff the property line with a row of greeters.

But the point is, the school board has enough with community relations as it is. Meeting in secret about a stupid wall on an already highly sensitive project like the Supercenter simply heightens suspicious and distrust - and for no good reason, other than to duck public opinion. And public opinion, the elected board should remember, is why they're there in the first place.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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