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Time to talk sense about speed for the 198

Democracy might take hold, after all.

Now that the knee-jerk-reaction phase has passed following the tragic death of a 3-year-old alongside the Scajaquada Expressway, rationality can become part of the discussion about what to do with the high-speed road through Delaware Playground.

Preservationists will howl, but there’s no place you can go in the northeastern part of the site and not risk being hit by some kind of ball. What they quaintly call a park is actually a playground with a handful of trees.

But I’ll concede the desirability of a parkway that links the playground with Hoyt Lake and the pastoral setting on the other side of state Route 198. To their credit, park lovers were advocating that link on its own merits long before the May 30 tragedy.

What makes far less sense – in fact, little at all – is also permanently downgrading the rest of the expressway, between Elmwood Avenue and the Niagara Thruway, to 30 mph.

Fortunately, despite some assertions to the contrary, state transportation officials indicate that is not a done deal.

The Department of Transportation, which announced more “traffic calming” steps this week, is planning a hearing soon to gauge public sentiment, including on the speed limit.

“We’ll see what the community says, and move forward from there,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Post.

That’s good news and bad for drivers because issues like this aren’t decided solely on numbers, but also on intensity. Parkside residents, Grant Street business owners and Frederick Law Olmsted groupies are sure to pack whatever meetings are held.

Less likely to show up are drivers who want to move efficiently between I-190 and Elmwood, but aren’t as passionate or as likely to attend meetings as those who want a lower speed limit on the entire Scajaquada. If they are no-shows, they will have nobody to blame but themselves.

In one sense, it’s hard to argue with Assemblyman Sean Ryan when he says the difference in speed limits for this short stretch amounts to less than 30 seconds. But by that logic, we wouldn’t have any local freeways, which shave mere minutes off the commute. The real standard should be the speed for which the road was engineered.

Nor are advocates persuasive when they talk about a parkway reviving Grant Street businesses along the part of the Scajaquada bordered by woods, industry and parking lots. You can’t force people to shop simply by making them drive more slowly past a store. To the contrary, the only reason I occasionally frequent the Tops there is because it is – or used to be – near a freeway.

It’s bad enough that we have miles and miles of near-empty bike lanes, not to mention a proliferation of left-turn-only lanes that further restrict through traffic, compounded by the frustrating lack of traffic light synchronization. Now they want to de-car the 198, too?

I love nature as much as the next person. But as a Motor City native, I also love using highways at the speed for which they were designed.

Besides, you don’t base transportation policy on one tragedy. By that rationale, fatalities across the region mean that we would be doing 30 mph on all the expressways.

Still, I’m willing to compromise.

Take back the park, if you must. But give us back the rest of the Scajaquada.