Corrections or additions?
These articles were published
in U.S. 1 on September 22, 1999. All rights reserved.
Rush ’99: Riding in the Rain
Did you risk life and limb to travel the highways of
the greater Princeton business community last Thursday, September
16, the day that Hurricane Floyd visited?
If you did you probably still have a vivid recollection of just how
dangerous it was. If you didn’t — if, for example, you were one
of those who went in a little early on Thursday, figuring there might
be some traffic delays, and then went home a little later than usual,
figuring you didn’t want to cope with both the evening rush hour traffic
and the waterlogged highways — then your only insight into the
dangerous highways that day might have come from visitors and phone
callers into your office.
That’s what happened to some of us at U.S. 1 and this is what we heard:
Water is rising in the Stony Brook and the canal and Alexander Road
into Princeton is likely to be closed, if not impassable. Route 1
may soon be flooded just as it was two or three years ago. Princeton
University is closed and roads between Lawrenceville and Princeton
are virtually impassable. ETS is closing, Bloomberg is closing; roads
in this direction — presumably — are either flooded with water
or clogged with cars. Washington Road is closed between the railroad
tracks and Route 1. Route 95 is closed.
That’s what we in the U.S. 1 office heard throughout the day last
Thursday and we don’t doubt a single word of it. The only remarkable
thing is that, those of us who came early and stayed a little late
never experienced a cupful of problems on the road, from either the
rain or the traffic. Similar to our experiences with various snowstorms
in the past, the worst problems have come from the flood of motorists
fleeing work early to avoid the problems they imagine later in the
day. One rush hour has been replaced by another. Those who left at
the usual time had the highways to themselves. They didn’t feel the
impact until Friday morning.
We offer these comments not to deride those who did leave early (and
helped exacerbate all those traffic problems at the high point of
the storm) but rather to make the point that traffic information is
still hard to gather and hard to disseminate in a way that is valuable
In fact, what was happening on Route 1 itself this past week was almost
incidental to the real story — the clogging of the smaller roads
leading to and from Route 1 — the veins that work to feed the
main artery. This tropical storm Floyd showed us just how vulnerable
our transportation network is.
All of which brings us to our annual traffic survey, appearing in
this issue on page 50. The survey was begun 14 years ago in response
to another piece of sky-is-falling propaganda — that Route 1 development
and its attendant traffic problems would lead to Trenton-to-New Brunswick
commutes of up to three hours by the year 2000. Back in 1985 that
prediction from a Rutgers professor was widely quoted as if it were
scientific fact. But now we know differently — traffic still flows
relatively smoothly — barring accidents or storms or construction
But you can never be sure how you will be affected. You don’t need
a Rutgers professor to second-guess the DOT. And you don’t need a
weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
One thing that U.S. 1’s annual rush hour traffic survey
does not measure is the growth of traffic on the roads that connect
to and run parallel with Route 1. That’s not surprising given the
origins of the traffic survey — an attempt to measure traffic
objectively at a time when Route 1 critics were issuing doomsday predictions
about the gridlock that would eventually consume the highway itself
(see the Between the Lines column, page 4).
While total gridlock on Route 1 never did materialize, and while various
highway improvements have actually improved traffic times on the main
artery despite vast increases in development, the suspicion all along
has been that the ancillary roads — like Washington Road and Harrison
Street, Route 571, Princeton Pike, and Route 206 — have actually
But it’s only been a suspicion. An occasional closure of Harrison
Street or Alexander Road has put a startling amount of pressure on
the remaining crossroads leading from Route 1 into the heart of Princeton
Borough, and strengthened that suspicion. And this summer’s closing
Washington Road in one direction to improve crosswalks for Princeton
University students only did the same — thank goodness the road
was reopened prior to the reopening of the university and the end
of the summer vacation season.
Last week, though, we got real proof of the vulnerability of our system
of secondary roads. Thank Hurricane Floyd for showing all of us just
how reliant we are on the efficient movement of traffic on Route 1.
Close it off, as the flood waters did in several points in the central
New Jersey corridor, or close off Interstate 95, as the flood waters
also did, and you have gridlock by any measure on the side roads and
In the aftermath of Floyd, and in the light of our annual traffic
survey that shows not much improvement but at least no worsening of
traffic on Route 1 itself, what lessons do we draw?
important. This road still bears the major burden of central New Jersey
traffic flow. Projects like the Millstone Bypass, which would eliminate
the traffic lights at Harrison Street, Fisher Place, and Washington
Road, are important.
needs to be nurtured. Despite our point No. 1 above, we opposed the
first proposed version of the Millstone Bypass, simply because it
called for the closing of Washington Road between Route 1 and Faculty
Road. We think that would have put an inordinate amount of pressure
on Harrison and Alexander roads. The newest proposal, calling for
right hand turns only at Washington Road and Route 1, seems like a
ally in the development of efficient road systems. We didn’t always
hold much hope for such technology but, as we saw the hordes of commuters
head for the roadways last Thursday during the height of Hurricane
Floyd, we couldn’t help but wonder what an efficient communication
system might have accomplished.
"Sorry," some emergency planning officer might have said in
effect to Princeton’s 10 largest employers, "we would prefer that
you not release all your employees at the exact same time, thereby
creating a rush hour at the one moment when the weather is at its
worst. In fact, we would prefer that you stagger your closings —
here’s a schedule that we hope you will adhere to." In that same
vein, we now feel, the smart highways, with their sensors and computer-controlled
traffic signals, are not such a dumb idea after all.
The method is simple and straightforward, but the data gathered is
likely to be as informative as any other — an easy claim since
no one else is doing anything similar. Until next year, drive safely
and stay dry.
The big news this year was supposed to be trucks, not
truckloads of water. But now a word or two about trucks and the controversy
over where and when they should be allowed to operate. Now that the
state has banned 102-inch-wide tractor trailers from certain roads
— and is even thinking about restricting those roads to 96-inch
wide trucks — drivers may think that the roads will get roomier.
Probably not. Most of those trucks are making instate delivery and
do not qualify for the ban.
Since cars and trucks will continue to share the roads, the general
public may find some useful information on the Internet. In fact,
information on carrier, vehicle, and driver safety is now available
on the Web through the Safety and Fitness Electronic Records (SAFER)
Among the free areas: Carrier Snapshots, a concise electronic record
of a carrier’s identification, size, commodity information, and safety
record, including safety rating (if any) and roadside out-of-service
inspection information. The carrier snapshot is available one carrier
at a time. Use the name of the company or the DOT number by the driver’s
side door to do the search.
Roadside inspectors have additional information available, so they
can select vehicles and/or drivers for inspection. It’s all part of
the Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) being designed to increase
roadway safety, reduce motorist delays, reduce air pollution, and
improve the overall productivity of commercial vehicle operations
(CVO) through the use of advanced technology. The Federal Highway
Administration (FHWA) is currently testing and evaluating ITS technologies
to enhance intrastate and interstate commercial vehicle operations.
The current focus is on creating transparent borders for interstate
commercial vehicles and improving the safety of commercial vehicle
operations. For questions call the SAFER Help Desk, 703-288-8386.
Another website, meanwhile, offers practical advice
on surviving when you are sandwiched among the behemoths of the road.
This from http://www.volvo.com:
for any length of time in the blind spots of a tractor-trailer. There
are three principal areas which are considered blind spots: Along
the left side of the trailer; along the right side of the trailer;
just ahead of, or along side of, the right (passenger’s side) of the
tractor unit. If you look to your left and see the hood of the tractor,
you may be in a blind spot.
On passing a truck: Before you pass, check to your front and rear.
Then move into the passing lane only when it is clear and you are
in a legal passing zone. It is helpful to let the truck driver know
you are passing by using your turn signals, especially at night. Most
truck drivers will assist you by keeping to the right side of the
lane after they see your signal.
Remember, it takes three to five seconds longer to pass a typical
truck than it does to pass an automobile. And on a downgrade, the
truck’s momentum will cause it to go faster, so you may need to increase
your speed. Always pass the truck quickly to avoid staying alongside
the truck, where you may be in a blind spot for the driver.
If the truck driver blinks his/her lights after you pass, that is
a signal that it is safe to pull back in the lane. But be sure you
can see the front of the truck in your rear-view mirror. Then maintain
When a truck passes you, you can do what the truck driver often does
— keep to the right, and slow down just a little, to help him/her
to complete the pass. Never speed up when a truck is passing. This
can cause real problems especially in congested traffic situations.
Typically, the truck driver will signal his intent to return to your
When you meet an oncoming truck on a two-lane highway, it is a good
idea to keep as far to the right side of your lane as possible. This
reduces the chance of a sideswipe accident and reduces the effects
of the turbulence between the two vehicles. Remember: turbulence pushes
the vehicles apart. It does not push them together.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.