Roads are public spaces that we built and pay for so that cars and trucks can quickly move people and goods around. That’s true. It’s even a good thing! The kind of mobility that engines give us has radically transformed our society, largely for the better. As such, we should support policies that make our roads perform that function more effectively and more efficiently. If the Maryland State Highway Administration says that x, y, or z would improve safety on its roads, x, y, and z are good things to do.
All that is true and free from sarcasm. But it’s not the only thing that is true. Roads are public spaces that we build and pay for so that bikes can move people around. Roads are public spaces that we build and pay for so that we can have outdoor festivals and parades. At the end of the day, roads are just public spaces that are linear, paved, and interconnected.
That’s why the Maryland State Highway Administration’s removal of roadside farmstands in Montgomery County on the grounds of safety is so upsetting. Farm stands are one of the easiest ways to turn roads from spaces into places.It’s remarkably pleasant to drive down a road with farm stands because it situates you not on a strip of asphalt the same as millions of others in the country but in the land you are driving through and in relation to the people of that area. I would hypothesize that less than 50 people in Montgomery County don’t like passing the Country Thyme Farm Market on River Road and that a very healthy majority is even happy about the owner’s civil disobedience. And how much less safe are they, really?
Back when driving was something people did for fun on a Sunday afternoon, roadside architecture was part of the draw. Our great roads are uniquely American great places. Turning them into speed-efficiency-safety-machines maintains all the worst parts of driving—the pollution, the sprawl, and the atomization—while sacrificing one of the things that does make driving sometimes quite great.
The SHA’s mission statement is to “Efficiently provide mobility for our customers through a safe, well-maintained and attractive highway system that enhances Maryland’s communities, economy and environment.” Kicking out the farm stands hurts Maryland’s communities and its economy. We should allow our public roads out in the suburbs to be as vibrant and multi-use as our urban roads.