Small Wonders: Speed humps in democracy¿s road

A favorite pastime for the parents on our block is to sit in their Adirondack chairs on our front lawns and yell at speeding, rush-hour motorists using our street to shave 12 seconds off their drives home.

We leap to our feet upon hearing the telltale roar of approaching speeders, hollering at them to slow down, doing our best not to spill a drop of Dewar's or whatever merlot is on sale at Fresh & Easy that week.

The drivers rarely hear their hecklers through closed windows. But our playing children do. I, for one, gave up trying to set a good example for my children after the Birthday Clown Incident of '06. (She had it coming, by the way.)

It's not the best way to handle a civic issue, I admit, but we all need to take a stand for something in life.

In response to our complaints to the city over the years, they've sent motorcycle officers to monitor our street and witness the drag races. They parked mobile radar guns to track their frequency and speed. But, like nuclear weapons, this only served as a momentary deterrent.

So what's a neighborhood to do when it becomes the shortcut of choice for lead-footed commuters? Petition the city for speed bumps, that’s what.

But in the parlance of Burbank civil engineering, they're called speed humps, not bumps. If you know the difference, please enlighten me.

Imagine our collective surprise when we received a letter in the mail notifying our little corner of America that the City Council would be debating the approval of funds for said humps in their upcoming session. Why this decision needed to go before the council, which certainly had better things to do, I'll never know. But I've never understood the ways of the political world, local or otherwise. Heck, I voted for Perot.

We came to find, in fact, that the collected data from the city’s traffic monitoring had made its way to the proper authorities. The research had been done — the City Manager and civil engineers were actually in favor of our hump funding.

So, on a recent Tuesday night, a representative band of concerned parents, sans Scotch and merlot, besieged the City Council meeting to plead our case.

It didn't take long for me to remember why I like being a human-interest writer rather than a City Hall watchdog. Though so necessary to our political process, the local City Council meeting is like a prostate exam. An awkward trial for all participants, but essential for our own good.

I figured we were in for a long night when a disheveled gentleman turned to ask me a question before the session. He held the agenda in his hand, with items circled and notes made. He was from Italy, he told me, and wanted to understand how our government worked.

“What means 'sectarian?'" he asked in broken English, referring to the invocation's nonsectarian prayer.

“It's like rooting for all the soccer clubs instead of just your favorite,” I explained. He looked puzzled then gave me a thumbs up.

“And what is 'Public Comment?'“

“You have the right to stand before the council and tell them your concerns.”

I pointed to the attendant at the entrance handing out speaker request cards. With a smile and another thumbs up, my Italian pupil stood, walked to and out the doors and into the night. I guess he was satisfied with my civics lesson.

The majority in attendance that night were seniors and disabled people who were fighting to maintain funding for the bus services that take them to the market, pharmacy and doctor. The need to budget-cut was imperative, they knew. But please don't cut their lifeline to the world, they argued.

One plucky lady of advanced years and day-glow orange hair teased high above her head explained that her hairdresser will only see her at 7:30 a.m. A cut to bus services would make her regular treatments impossible.

Our humps suddenly seemed so insignificant.

But we, the front-lawn criers, stated our case with respect and sincerity, much like our elderly, infirm and brightly-dyed counterparts.

And, on that night at least, democracy worked. Our voices were heard, our representatives moved to vote in our favor. It may not have pleased everyone. Public votes never do, because they deal with — well, the public. But Matilda and her friends keep their ride. And we get a measure of safety for our children.

So now we wait. The wheels of democracy can turn painfully slow — look no further than Canada for proof. But the wheels of street maintenance trucks can turn even slower.

Life's full of humps in the road. And thanks to our fractured, complicated, convoluted democracy, we got ours.

PATRICK CANEDAY urges you to vote in the upcoming election. Don’t complain if you don’t vote. He can be reached at, and on Facebook.

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