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'Sic Transit gloria'? No, but it's slow

Yogi Berra would love Transit Road. Nobody drives on it anymore; it's too crowded.

Here's a conversation starter: "I was on Transit Road the other day." Then sit back and wait for people to volunteer how they drive on it as little as possible.

Clarence Supervisor Kathleen Hallock once said of Transit: "I avoid it like the plague."

Transit, aka Route 78, is not the only busy suburban road in Western New York. Spend a Saturday afternoon on Niagara Falls Boulevard between Sheridan Drive and I-290, and the stress is similar.

But Transit is different, partly because not so long ago it was a two-lane highway that took you to "the country," not the often-congested thoroughfare it has become.

It's like a child who has grown up right before our eyes.

Transit also stands alone because it clogs and unclogs and then reclogs with traffic several times from Lancaster to the Niagara County line.

The busiest stretch of the road is the portion between the Thruway entrance and Wehrle Drive. The Greater Buffalo-Niagara Regional Transportation Council estimated in 2002 that an average of 44,100 vehicles traveled there daily.

People drive where they live, and the growth of Transit is directly related to what has happened to the towns it passes through. Virtually all of the towns that had population growth in Western New York in the last 30 years have Transit Road in common, including Amherst, Clarence, Lancaster and Elma.

The road was planned by the architect of Western New York, Joseph Ellicott. According to the Amherst Museum, it was named Transit for the instrument used by surveyors that helped make the road so straight.

It's still as straight as Ellicott envisioned 200 years ago, but it's nowhere near as narrow.

Between the Elma town line near the Route 400 exchange and the intersection with North French Road in East Amherst, motorists travel on a road that has bbetween four and seven lanes of traffic.

There is much to be learned and to contemplate on that 14-mile drive.

* During the height of rush hour on a snowy Friday afternoon, the trip took about 36 minutes. The more expressway-friendly route -- 400, 90, 290 and 990 -- is about 10 miles farther but takes about the same amount of time.

* Take pity on people trying to make left turns onto Transit Road from anywhere there is not a traffic signal. Their only hope is the kindness of strangers. The main gesture of the Transit Road commuter is the "wave," used to tell the desperate person trying to make a left turn to go ahead. This should always be followed by the appreciative wave in return. Avoid all other hand gestures.

* There are still a few houses on Transit, a reminder of what the road used to be.

* If you like "big-box" stores -- Target, Wal-Mart, Kohl's -- Transit Road is your Xanadu. Name a national franchise that operates in Western New York, and there is one somewhere along Transit Road. In some cases, there are two. That just might account for all the traffic.

* There are 34 traffic lights on the journey. Getting through two in a row without slowing down is a victory. The official color of Transit Road should be brake-light red.

A few years ago, the Seneca Nation was considering building a casino in Cheektowaga. Supporters noted the easy access to Transit Road. Bring that up today to someone who uses the road. Talk about a conversation starter.


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