Kristina Serafini of the Sewickley Herald wrote a short op-ed in this week’s edition about some of the craziness she has witnessed while commuting from Pittsburgh’s southern suburbs to the Sewickley area, mostly along Pa. Route 65, AKA Ohio River Boulevard, AKA “Killer 65” – a moniker earned several decades ago in the wake of several high-profile fatal traffic accidents.
Ms. Serafini is passionate about the subject because she lost a close friend in a traffic crash. She has seen her share of distracted driving and outright recklessness on a stretch of road that is challenging in its design, configuration, and use. So have I.
My commuting experience differs slightly from Ms. Serafini’s in that I am a shift worker. One of the benefits of this is that at least one leg of my commute usually takes place during decidedly non-peak travel times. Despite this, I still see my share of crazy driving, mostly of the extremely fast and reckless variety.
I also drive Route 65 several times a week, as part of my commute to work in the eastern fringes of the City of Pittsburgh. I’ve been driving it as long as I’ve known how to drive, save for the years I lived in Colorado.
That period was an eye-opening experience into the future of traffic management – so much so that one of the toughest things to get used to upon returning was the nature of motoring in Pennsylvania. This includes roads whose conditions and maintenance are both questionable and inconsistent, where present usage and traffic loading have long exceeded that which the roads were designed for, and where driver competence is a decidedly mixed bag.
In the course of commuting, I’ve come to believe that speed is not as much a factor in accidents as inattentiveness, incompetence, or intransigence. This also goes for laws and policies that don’t keep up with changing utilization patterns, technology, and/or business practices.
To explain further, I’m going to use as a framework several of the key issues of the National Motorists Association, an advocacy group that has been in existence since 1982, and whose RSS feed has been featured in the sidebar of this blog for several years. Some of the issues that I’ve observed are:
According to a speed-limit brochure published in conjunction with the Michigan State Patrol…unrealistic speed limits create two groups of drivers. Those that try to obey the limit and those that drive at a speed they feel is safe and reasonable. This causes dangerous differences in speed.
This is a common occurrence on Route 65, especially during the business day. A significant group of drivers choose to exceed the posted speed limits on a routine basis, and like myself monitor what is safe and reasonable. Familiarity with the roadway is likely a factor in this decision-making process. The posted limit is 40 MPH for most of the roadway, going up to a robust 45 MPH along straightaways with fewer access points or curb cuts.
The NMA’s position on this:
Speed limits should be based on sound traffic-engineering principles that consider responsible motorists’ actual travel speeds.
Typically, this should result in speed limits set at the 85th percentile speed of free-flowing traffic (the speed under which 85 percent of traffic is traveling).
These limits should be periodically adjusted to reflect changes in actual traffic speeds.
A related news story this week is an additional item of concern for motorists and commuters. Pa. State Senator Randy Vulakovich (D-Shaler) introduced legislation this week that would give local police departments the ability to use radar for speed enforcement.
Pennsylvania is the only state where local police can’t use radar, which raises the question why it’s such a big deal for them to have it. I personally don’t have an issue with it – while this would give the locals the ability to pull over vehicles going 5 MPH over the posted speed limit instead of the current 10 MPH with other forms of speed detection, police departments still have to commit man-hours to the effort, just like they do now.
Considering the prevailing speed often traveled by motorists on Route 65 and other locations, I believe that police already realize that they can’t pull over every car on the roadway. The spectre of the speed trap may crop up initially, especially among those municipalities that see traffic enforcement as a potential revenue stream.
Common sense use of radar will hopefully be the end result, should the bill pass.
Then there’s the not-so-bright idea of using technology to identify speeders and red light runners, through detection camera systems. Pittsburgh City Council voted late last year to begin a pilot program after securing approval from the Legislature.
Last week the Colorado State Senate passed a bill banning the use of red light and speed cameras statewide. They’ve raised the ire of local governments and the companies that make the things by doing so, but it appears that the measure has bipartisan support so far, and the Governor is thinking about it. At least three other state houses are looking into doing the same thing.
Having been unjustly victimized by a Denver red light camera, all I can say is if it happens, good riddance. I hope that Pennsylvania isn’t so far behind the curve as to not pay attention to the trend before traveling down that rabbit hole of misery.
Another key component of a safe, efficient commute is Lane Courtesy. Simply stated, slower traffic uses the right lane, and left lane traffic yields to faster traffic. With a road like Route 65, a caveat for those making left turns needs to be added:
Unless you are making a left turn or passing slower traffic, stay in the right lane.
The failure to do this contributes to traffic backups on southbound Route 65 through Sewickley all the way to Interstate 79, due primarily to drivers who plan on accessing the Interstate via the left exit, and their steadfast refusal to either leave the left lane or speed up.
One fortunate improvement in recent years has been the reconfiguration of Route 65, in areas of higher commercial density, to include a center turn lane and/or left turn lane at some intersections. Examples of this can be seen in Edgeworth, Avalon, and Bellevue.
Despite this, there are still drivers who insist on driving in the left lane at or below the speed of the prevailing flow of traffic, creating an impediment to efficient travel and engendering ill will among many. There are at least two student transportation vans who are regular offenders along my daily commute. I wonder if they’re told to do this for some reason.
Other chronic problems don’t have any easy answers either. Add a few big rigs in the wrong places, and it can often take upwards of 5 minutes to traverse the three traffic signals at and near the Sewickley Bridge, our local area’s most notorious traffic pinch point.
With a robust construction season approaching, patience will become an ever more important and scarce commodity as drivers of varying degrees of skill, expertise, and discipline will attempt to peacefully coexist on our area roadways.
So take heed – drive smart. That means attentiveness, courtesy, safe and reasonable speed, and moving over if someone else wants by.
Have a safe and pleasant week ahead.