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Matthew K. Pelkey: Commute is improved with lower speed limit

Over the last month, I have noticed a subtle change in my daily routine. It was not quite clear at first what that change was, but each morning as I drove to work and each day as I came home, I noticed something was different. Something that made each day a little more pleasant.

I realized that what I was experiencing was the difference in rush-hour traffic on Route 198.

You see, for the last two years I have driven on the Scajaquada Expressway nearly every day. Each evening, as I would come home from my office downtown, I would take Route 198 west off of the Kensington Expressway. Rush hour was unavoidably a parking lot.

The Delaware on-ramp was basically the vehicular equivalent of Russian roulette given the 0-50 mph merge from a stop sign. And merging from the eastbound lane at the Main Street entrance to go downtown had a striking resemblance to Frogger (we will set aside for the moment the double-entry-point-absurdity that is the 198 Main Street on-ramp).

I can vividly recall most rush-hour voyages onto Route 198 from the Kensington in the evening because my attempt to merge was almost immediately met with stand-still traffic. I would put my turning signal on as I struggled to make my way over to the Main Street exit onto Humboldt Parkway. Many times my attempts were unsuccessful, resulting in a forced continuation westbound to an orchestra of beeping horns and profanity.

I raise these points to illustrate a clear picture of exactly what the status quo on Route 198 was like prior to the recent tragedy in Delaware Park involving the Sugorovskiy family. I raise these points because when the 30 mph speed limit was put into effect, opponents raised objections that the new speed limit would create traffic nightmares on the road – that it would impede their ability to use the roadway with their vehicle.

The reality these opponents have seemingly missed is that Route 198 had always been a nightmare – for pedestrians, bikers, the neighborhood and traffic. Indeed, if such a contest existed, it may have been in the running for “America’s poorest-designed Roadway.” Certainly one could make a straight-faced argument for such. It is ironic that such a travesty of a roadway was placed at the epicenter of what many consider to be America’s best-designed city.

Recently, however, rush-hour traffic on Route 198 has been drastically better. It is calmer. It is safer. My heart rate is no longer elevated while navigating it. And, quite frankly, I have noticed that I actually get to work and home faster than I did when the speed limit was 50 mph. It appears that while traffic is ultimately moving at a slower speed, vehicles during rush hour are actually getting through the area more quickly than they did previously.

Delaware Park was named one of the 2014 Great Places in America, notwithstanding Route 198. The park was designed to be enjoyed by our entire community. It was designed to allow each of us to have a connection to nature. This community asset was designed for the people, and reducing the speed and redesigning the road is a crucial element in restoring that.

Objections based on convenience should not come ahead of safety and common sense, especially when they are based on a false reality.