Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bad Drivers: City of Stamford's Fault!

AWESOME article in the Advocate about traffic. It starts: Stamford is a city of speeders, red-light runners, tailgaters, lane-changers, horn-honkers and ignorers of stop signs and double yellow lines. Mitch Mailman thinks he knows why. Too many traffic lights.

Essentially, we are being driven insane by traffic lights. Well, guess what. I have a solution. Instead of fuming as you are sitting at a light, open your smart phone and check your email. Problem solved. I don't think that's dangerous. Make the most of your time.

The article focuses a lot of Havemeyer Lane, the road b/w Greenwich and Stamford near Stillwater. I travel that road all the time on the way to work. From the article:
Besides all the stop-and-go, the signals create backups blocks away, prevent cars from moving when traffic is light, and fuel aggressive behavior, he said. Since the city replaced three stop signs with a traffic light at Palmer's Hill Road and Havemeyer Lane about six weeks ago, Mailman has heard two crashes... That's because the signs forced cars coming from all three directions to slow down then stop. But "with the signal, people accelerate into the intersection when it's green, and may even speed up when it's yellow," he said.

I was kind of pissed when they put in the light, because I saw NO NEED for it. For the most part, people completely respected those stop signs. Occasionally, maybe once a week, people would come to a rolling stop. I'd shake my fist at them, but then continue on my merry, unimpeded-by-a-stoplight way. POINTLESS. That's a POINTLESS light. It took away the ONE daily opportunity I had to cooperate with fellow drivers, waving on the person whose turn it was. For the most part, people behaved really well at those stoplights. Now, we're just jerks trying to fly through the intersection before the light changes. I'm guilty of that. When I'm coming from Greenwich via Palmer's Hill, and my baby is screaming in the backseat, and I see that green light, I go a little faster to make sure I make the light. If there were a stop sign, I'd be starting to slow, making it a safer intersection, and making less chance of me T-boning someone who tries to make a left in front of me onto Havemeyer.

The article also mentions the roundabout on Havemeyer: Drivers didn't like it, for example, when the city installed a landscaped roundabout on Havemeyer Lane instead of a light, Poola said. "We got a lot of complaints," he said.
Complaints about what? Having to slow down from 45 on that 25 mph road? Before that traffic circle, people flew- very dangerous on that residential road. Calm the freak down, people. Actually, a couple days ago I almost giggled out loud at that circle as I watched two motorists try to weave through the circle without slowing down. They looked like total idiots yanking the wheel and swerving, but I had to admire their ambitious, NASCAR-like moves.

Anyway, my point: the traffic light at Palmer's Hill/Havemeyer: STUPID.
The traffic circle: annoying but OK, because people exiting their neighborhoods need to be protected from speeding jerks. I don't speed on that road, but I do accelerate to make the light at Palmer's Hill.

I realize I sound a bit hypocritical because I admit I speed sometimes, but you can't deny the effect that lights have on driving. If a safe driver like me is encouraged to speed by a light, that's bad.

See, the city of Stamford IS making us bad drivers!


Anonymous said...

Two weeks ago my husband and I moved to Stamford from the midwest. I've never in my life seen drivers like I have here. I read the Advocate article and since we're still new here I can't say whether it's the placement of traffic lights or not. I do know that people are reckless! I hate being on the road here and having my life flash before my eyes as cars cut in without signaling, speed through red lights, honk relentlessly and go WELL above the speed limit. It's dangerous.

Anonymous said...

I think the lights are OK but they should either have timers in the downtown area (to minimize the stop & go due to ill timed lights) and/or have sensors in the pavement so that they react to heavy or light traffic. Or simply install some traffic cameras, fake ones if necessary for the effect.


Doug said...

This is one guy's opinion of why the traffic is bad, but the professional traffic engineers who monitor the traffic all day don't agree with him.

The city has done a lot of work - with tons of community input - over the past two years to come up with a master plan for easing traffic and getting drivers to slow down.

Here is the web site that explains what they plan to do.

Now the trick is to get the funding that competes with everyone else's priorities when no one wants taxes to go up.

RNZ said...

Don't be fooled by the city's "master traffic calming plan". I participated in a neighborhood meeting 2 years ago and most of the suggestions residents brought up were shot down by the consultants or the city's engineer. They seemed to already have their own plan. Most disconcerting was that most of the locations we mentioned for the worst traffic issues are on state roads that run through Stamford, and the city claimed that they could not do anything about them. The people running the meeting didn't even offer to forward this feedback to whatever state contacts they may have. Also, after the consultant begged for attendees to volunteer for follow up committees, I did so, and I never heard from them again. So much for community involvement. I don't want to be so negative, but I'm not expecting much calming to happen.

Doug said...

Point taken, RNZ.
If you look at the maps they have on that web site, they show the planned traffic calming measures in every neighborhood in the city. Of course all of these depend on the budget, and would take years to all be put in place.
I would be interested to know what's not in the plan that you think should be, or areas that were not addressed. Definitely some of the biggest challenges are on the state roads - High Ridge, Long Ridge, and the Post Road.

Jeff said...

Give me traffic circles/roundabouts over lights (on secondary/tertiary roads, at least) any day. In addition to forcing jackasses who drive too fast to slow down, they keep traffic flowing on the main road. As someone who lives off of Havemeyer and regularly walks my dog there, I love that circle. They probably could replace a third of the traffic lights on the Post Road with roundabouts and help the situation immensely.

To the commenter who was disappointed that the traffic engineer didn't listen, I'm sorry, but sometimes you have to let the pros handle things. If I had my druthers, Greenwich would be full of bike lanes and sidewalks, like on every thru street. However, I'm an English teacher, not an urban planner or traffic engineer, so I'll just stick to my areas of expertise and allow the people who are actually trained in such matters to try new solutions to our traffic disaster.

Dora said...

I've lived in Stamford a long time and the traffic and reckless driving just seems to have gotten worse over the years. I keep thinking that with the combination of poor planning and infrastructure and a general sense of NY metro sense of entitlement and the need to get where it is you're going at the fastest pace have created a monster. Not sure if city planners can get around the general sense of "I'm more important than you and will run you down if I have to prove it."

Liz said...

I dunno. I've been living and driving here for ten years and I don't really see the problem. The only place I have trouble is the nightmarish 5-way intersection at the top of Hoyt Street.

Does baby Q really scream in the car all the time?

Jeff said...

I grew up in Westport, went away to college in the mid-90s, lived in a couple of other places, and was back in Stamford in 2003--and it's definitely worse than it used to be throughout the whole Greenwich-Fairfield corridor. I don't know if the population's increased around here, or if it's just that everyone's cars are bigger than they were when I was first learning to drive, but I always feel really hemmed in when I try to do anything on main road after about 3pm on a weekday or any time on a weekend.

Whitemist said...

I totally agree with Dora! i still think the paintball squad would be a good idea, but people do think they are more important than anyone else and "have" to get there NOW.
The reality is, we do not. Now I don't drive, it becomes more interesting as people try to run me down with my cane.
Traffic lights are somewhat synchronized (they could be better), but is the rush that every one is in that causes the main issues.

RNZ said...

I live in the Glenbrook/West Side area off of Courtland Avenue. I work downtown. The area of concern for most residents who attended the initial community meeting for my area involved intersections along Route 1 from Exit 9 into downtown Stamford. None of these could be addressed by the city's consultants. I understand the reason, but the situation was frustrating nonetheless. The consultants did listen to other areas of concern, which gratefully will be taken care of in the near future, although they are nowhere nearly as busy as the Route 1 concerns.

I do agree wholeheartedly that drivers have gotten into some very bad (and dangerous) habits. I've never seen a city in which people recklessly blow through yellow lights and do not bother to look at pedestrian signals in crosswalks. I work a mile and a half from home, and what I see on a daily basis is astounding. I've given up trying to bike and walk to work.

Great blog, BTW. : )

Stamford Talk said...

Thanks RNZ!
Liz, if Q is really tired, he fusses- he's a crappy napper, so his first few months, most drives over 10 min would usually have some screaming. he hated being strapped in tight when he was tired. I've gotten better at putting him to sleep, so I less often end up in the car with a crabby baby! Today I put him to sleep (naps) twice at home, once at Panera, and once at physical therapy.
we run around a lot, so even tho he is a better rider as he is almost 5 months, we still have lots of fussing opportunities bc he does not fall asleep in the car- he screams if he is tired.
Hence, some white knuckle drives for me in the Stamford-Greenwich area.

Doug said...

Jeff and RNZ - totally agree with you about the stretch of Route 1 between Exit 9 and downtown.
There IS a state DOT plan to improve East Main Street (the stretch of Route 1 east of Glenbrook Road) with turning lanes, median strips (I think), and some other improvements. Question is whether or when the state will ever actually approve the funding for it. Also, the plan for the second phase of the Urban Transitway includes some improvements to East Main Street near Myrtle Ave, where the transitway will meet East Main, and where some of the worst bottlenecks happen.

It is true that there has been a significant increase in population since the mid-90s, with more downtown housing, more immigration, and also more corporate jobs coming here.
Stamford now has as many or more commuters coming here every day to work as it has commuting to New York - and not because there are fewer commuters to New York, but because there are more jobs here. That has got to have an effect on traffic - sadly, they're not all taking the train. Compared to the slow pace of state and federal funding, it's still a relatively recent development that planners and funders haven't kept pace with.
But the city has a huge role to play, and citizens must both stay involved, demand change and be willing to pay taxes for the city's share of improvements. I've sat at many zoning meetings where there was not much public comment that supported development CONDITIONALLY - it was either all for it because the development was the new Rockefeller Center that would solve all of the city's problems, or all against it because the developers were the great Satan. The Zoning Board tends to discount the all-or-nothing folks, but so few say, I am very in favor of this development, BUT you MUST force the developers to pay for traffic improvements.
I've also seen the city's traffic engineers plead with the Zoning Board to force developers to include more traffic improvements, then have the developers successfully argue that those demands would kill the project financially.
Still, most approved developments I've seen tend to have some pretty major traffic improvements - most of them having to do with better traffic signals and pedestrian-friendly features such as raised crosswalks, traffic islands, sidewalks etc.
Finally, I agree that there is a sense of urgency and possibly entitlement on Lower Fairfield County roads. Somehow whatever I'm doing and wherever I'm going is more important than what you're doing and where you're going. When I cut somebody off, I'm totally justified because he was going too slow or not paying attention. When you do it, you're an aggressive road-raging idiot. Most of these traffic-calming measures are designed to trick the driver's brain into thinking he needs to chill out and slow down.

Whitemist said...

There was one more item, lights vs stop signs, srory all people run the stop signs actually less than the lights. That is a now pedestrian view.

bruceb said...

Just returned from Canada and it was so nice to drive on straight roads with little or no traffic. No sooner was I back on the Merritt than one guy, going about 100mph, tailgates me with his lights flashing and horn honking. Then, when I pull over as soon as is humanly possible, he opens his window and yells abuse. I thought the lack of courtesy and incidents of road rage were bad in England but they are nothing compared to Stamford and the stretch between Greenwich and Westport. The root of the problem (if you'll pardon the pun) is too many people using an infrastructure that was not designed to cope with a population so big. A journey that should take 5 mins turns into 15 mins and in this day and age, when everyone is in a hurry all the time, that leads to frustration. It's an old cliche that people change character behind a steering wheel but it's so true.

Anonymous said...

To be fair, bruceb, I've never seen so many people ride in the left-hand lane as in the northeast. I don't know if it's an extension of the entitlement mindset ("I'm going as fast as anyone could want") or a lack of education on passing lanes, but there are enough people who don't get over when possible that I find myself getting frustrated. It is definitely exacerbated by poor design and overcrowding - I agree with you there.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I totally agree. Only in the northeast do people not understand the left lane is for fast traffic and passing. Believe it or not, the NE has the nations slowest drivers in the left lane. Absurd.

That is not how the world works.