I like talking with my wife. She’s interesting and has cool things to say. A treat for us in the evening is to have a glass of wine or a beer at a table on a sidewalk in Downtown DeLand, watch people stroll by, and chat. Or to stay longer for a nice dinner and ice cream.
Then an 18-wheeler stops at the light and idles loudly beside us — feet away. At first, we shout to be heard. Then we — and everyone around us — stop talking, sit quietly, smile vaguely, and wait for the next break in the traffic to continue our conversations. A few minutes later, it happens again.
Don’t get me wrong. I like and admire trucks, trucking and drivers. My dad was the transportation manager at Pennzoil; close family members are truck drivers. And they don’t like to sit idling at red lights in congested downtowns either.
So why must our restaurants, bars and shops be expected to contend with such a disruptive atmosphere? Has anyone checked the decibel (dB) levels recently of a semitruck accelerating from a standing start? (OK, I looked it up: More than 70 decibels over a period of time can cause hearing damage; a typical lawn mower delivers around 90 dB; whereas, car horns and semitrailer trucks come in at over 100 dB.)
How can the City of DeLand — the winner of the 2017 America’s Main Street contest — look itself in the mirror today and say, “Everything’s great. What noise problem?” Envision a Downtown that’s grown past the truck route phase into a people-friendly and business-friendly gathering place.
No one is advocating the closing of Woodland Boulevard and turning it into a pedestrian walkway. Most are aware of the importance of the busy U.S. Highway 17-92 artery through town and its connections north and south. And there are FDOT and U.S. highway restrictions and requirements to work with. But there certainly are some adjustments, some steps that could be implemented to reduce the noise of the area to a reasonable, humane degree.
A friend of mine related this experience of a recent dinner along Woodland Boulevard: “I had a three-hour-long conversation with a friend at [a well-known restaurant] two weeks ago. It could have been a one-hour conversation if we hadn’t had to pause our thoughts so often for loud traffic going by.” I’ve heard that from others. Undoubtedly, there are hundreds of these examples from among our residents and our visitors.
Can DeLand encourage or enforce heavy trucking transport to go around the central business area via Spring Garden Avenue (State Road 15A) or Kepler Road? Can lights be better synchronized? Are noise limits on the books, and are they routinely applied? Restaurants and meeting places along our main street might be thankful for lessened noise and an improved atmosphere to keep contented customers longer.
Imagine enjoying meals and conversations on the sidewalks in DeLand made less like a candlelit dinner at a Metallica concert — with all props to Metallica (105 dB). When that happens, we would deserve another “Best Small City” award.
— Trained in industrial-organizational psychology, Heeter specialized in learning and workplace performance, and knowledge management. He now avoids hard scheduling demands through hobbies like kayaking, woodworking and reading.