When it comes to commuting, we really don't have a lot to complain about in Western New York.
It's hard to remember that when you and dozens of your fellow motorists haven't moved in the center expressway lane for 5 minutes because the sign way back there said the left lane would be closed in a half-mile so you moved over and now some idiot is zooming up that very left lane and then will try to snake in way ahead of you, thus slowing traffic even more because WHY BE A HUMAN BEING WHEN YOU CAN BE A TOTAL JERK? CAN'T YOU READ ROAD SIGNS? YOU ARE WHY INSURANCE RATES ARE SO HIGH! JACKASS!
Where am I?
Anyway, minor annoyances notwithstanding, we have it pretty good compared to our brethren in Toronto, Washington and the even larger major metro areas for whom a two-hour drive to work is fact of life.
Still, the news this week that a new cashless toll system would be coming to the Grand Island bridges was a reminder that small changes can make a big difference for drivers.
With that in mind, here are 10 suggestions to make motor vehicle travel in and around Western New York a little less infuriating.
• Do something with the 198 that makes sense
Operating the Scajaquada Expressway like it was a speedway was a mistake. But trying to force it down the public's throat as a parkway is leading to a situation in which drivers trying to obey the law often look in their rear-view mirror to see a speeding vehicle coming toward them and have to swerve to avoid getting rear-ended.
A 55 mph speed limit was too high, but 30 mph might be too low. Maybe split the difference at 40 and see how that works.
• Make traffic lights function in relation to traffic
Some traffic signals are triggered by the vehicles approaching. If there are no vehicles, the light doesn't change because it doesn't need to. These lights should be the rule, not the exception.
• Change exit numbers to mile markers, like other states do
It's true. In some states, when you pass exit 105, the exit three miles away is 108. And so on. In the name of consistency – not to mention navigation and trip planning – New York should do the same.
• Install red light cameras
The "Big Brother is watching" criticism is legitimate, as are fears of false citations. But other communities have figured out how to make these systems work. I say it's worth trying anything to deter people from interpreting a yellow traffic light as a sign to floor it and hope for the best.
• Add more left-hand turn signals
Watching in frustration as a seemingly endless line of vehicles is coming toward you while you estimate whether you're going to be able to make your turn often leads to bad decisions. That can be mitigated with the addition of a left-turn arrow.
• Roundabouts. Roundabouts. Roundabouts.
Roundabouts are the metric system of traffic control devices: They work like a charm in other countries, but opponents here can't figure them out, so let's just give up and continue living with an outdated system. But the metric system doesn't get blamed for killing anyone; four-way intersections do. Complain all you want about roundabouts being confusing, but they work, and we should be building more of them.
• Rethink the signs near the Peace Bridge
The problem of people missing or misreading the signs from the 190 and inadvertently finding themselves on the Peace Bridge with no way to turn around has become a recurring theme on social media. Maybe there needs to be a better warning sign, like: "IF YOU DON'T WANT TO GO TO CANADA, TURN HERE."
• Change more traffic lights to flashing red at off hours
Really? It's 1 a.m. and there is not another car in sight, but I have to sit at this light for 30 seconds or more? Come on.
• Add more digital signs with timely messages
One of the best traffic innovations of the last 10 years was the addition of a digital sign on the southbound 990 that alerts motorists to the time it will take to get downtown via the 290, depending on whether they are going east to the 90 and 33 or west to the 190.
During morning rush hour, it's invaluable. The 990 is unusual in that it leads to multiple expressway options, but surely there are other spots where digital message signs with information that could aid drivers could do some good.
• Do something to make traffic reports more accessible at all times
Some people use Google maps to alert them to impending traffic issues, but I don't like looking at my phone while driving. (Yep. I'm the one.) Others use local radio stations, but you don't get the traffic until they decide to give you the traffic.
The Thruway Authority Highway Advisory Radio (HAR) system, 1630 AM in the Buffalo area, "provides travelers with timely and accurate information about incidents, construction, weather and traffic conditions along the Thruway and adjacent highway systems," according to its website. But the station often does not come in clearly. If it did, more commuters might use it.