Between the Lines

Rush Hour Traffic Survey

About Those Trucks

Corrections or additions?

These articles were published

in U.S. 1 on September 22, 1999. All rights reserved.

Rush ’99: Riding in the Rain

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Between the Lines

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 One rush hour has been replaced by another.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

to motorists.

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

projects.

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.

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Rush Hour Traffic Survey

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

gotten worse.

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

crossroads.

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?

1.) That planned improvements to Route 1 continue to be

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.

2.) That the network of crossroads and parallel roads

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

big improvement.

3.) That planners continue to look to technology as an

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.

For all these reasons we will continue to monitor Route 1 traffic.

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.

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About Those Trucks

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)

System: http://www.safersys.org.

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:

A standard but often forgotten piece of advice is to avoid traveling

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

your speed.

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

lane.

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.


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