Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Why the GWB Carmegeddon isn't as bad as we thought it would be...

Last night I decided to take the lower level of the GWB inbound. This was not an error, rather a carefully calculated decision based on upper level toll plaza traffic and CBX traffic on the other side. I decided that the 25 minute trek downstairs was favorable to about 40 minutes upstairs. I would have followed the traffic indicator sign on the 95 approach which listed approximate wait times, but shocker, it wasn’t working.

We have all been warned to avoid the GWB. Everyone says its complete anarchy as 3 lanes are reduced to one, creating an absolute bottleneck and gumming up the full approach. This is actually not true.

[caption id="attachment_579" align="aligncenter" width="300"]GWB lower level approach this is the three lanes that are on the GWB lower level. the left is the HRD exit, the right is the Deegan exit and in the middle is the CBX approach.[/caption]

In reality, the traffic pattern is not all that different. The 3 lanes in question encompass the Harlem River Drive left exit, the 95 through traffic lane, and the Deegan lane to the left. The Harlem River Drive exits as normally, and about 50 yards later, the other two lanes go into a slow merge. And when I say exit as normally, I mean the left lane moves more rapidly than the 2 right lanes. The middle lane is not for the weary, requiring constant concentration to keep within 6 inches off the bumper of the car in front of you, to prevent the asshats that are too important to wait from cutting in.

I think these pricks are actually thee root cause of most of the  traffic down there, both on the span and in the Harlem River Drive approach. People stop in the middle of the left lane to cut off traffic, which causes that lane to stop moving, in addition to the middle lane. After this it’s 2 lanes merging slowly, which are then expanded out from one lane to two, which actually is an improvement over the cluster that was the previous traffic pattern -Remember that? Lower level and upper level all merging into four lanes, with all of the Deegan bound trucks desperately trying to jockey all the way to right from the other side of the road, through traffic? Yeah, im kind of glad that’s gone.

So in conclusion, the lower level of the GWB right now is not that bad for the weekday commuter, but always add about 10 minutes to drive time. But still consider it off-limits between Thursday night and Sunday night, when all the travelers are on their way to their destination. For now it is an option, but when September hits, I still think its going to be utter chaos.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

I got 99 Problems and the TVB is one.

I'm driving on the Clearview Southbound the other day. I'm keeping pace with traffic, and take position behind a rapidly moving black A4 from the middle lane to pass a slow moving VW. It was a gorgeous day. The sunroof is open, the radio is blasting, and I feel great.

That is until I see the unmarked black NYPD Charger bust out from my left from his hiding spot.

He accelerates with such fury that his ass actually kicks out as he pulls out from the dirt underneath the overpass to the tarmac. Im not worried. I see him coming, and I slide to the right. The Audi in front of me was hauling ass, so I almost feel bad for him.

Then he moves right with me and gets right behind me, cherries ablaze. Crap.  This is gonna suck. I know im about to get pulled over, so my first move is to roll down all my windows and avoid the illegal tint ticket.

At this point I'm contemplating that I got two choices, yall-  pull over the car or bounce on the double put the pedal to the floor. Now a high speed chase is the wrong move, as I can’t outrun an Interceptor package V8 charger.

Plus I got a few dollars I can fight the case.  So....I pull over to the side of the road, and I heard "Son do you know why I'm stopping you for?"

"Cause I'm young and I'm black and my hat's real low" I said;  this was not received well.  At this point I realize my PBA and officers Union stickers won’t be of help.

"Well you was doing 74 in a fifty (four)".

So I got a ticket. Its OK, I'm not mad about it. I have the "don't do the crime if you cant do the time" mentality, and my respect for police officers reminds me he is out there doing his job. I was speeding, I got a ticket, I deserved it, lets pay the fine and move on. But this is where things went south.

Apparently, in NYC, Buffalo and Rochester only, traffic and vehicular infractions are handled by an Organization called the Traffic Violations Bureau (TVB) which is actually the militant arm of the DMV. This is different than the rest of the state where you get a ticket, and you can plead guilty or not guilty. If you plead the latter, you got to court, where the cop will likely knock it down. Not the TVB. If you dare to plead not guilty, the ticket actually warns you that there will likely be additional fees. They also warn that there is no reduction - you are either guilty or the ticket is dismissed. You better lawyer up if you want to fight because the tickets don’t get dismissed. In fact, it has even been reported that cops get in trouble if tickets are dismissed. Even on the ticket, it basically tells you don’t even attempt to fight this ticket.

In big letters, it tells me i have 15 days to respond, or my automotive world will end due to license suspension, they will kidnap my dog, and write mean things about me on yelp.

As you might know, there is now a fantastic world wide web out there of information sharing that we can all use to computerize our lives and make things easier. The TVB has also embraced this with an “E-plead” function of their website. When you log on using the ticket information, you are able to pay for your ticket and put it behind you. Sounds great in theory. So I logged on a few days after I got the ticket, and it says it is not in their database yet. I signed up to get the email, and they will send me a generated notification of when it becomes available. Great. So I researched this matter, and I found they actually never really post the tickets online in a timely fashion. I also asked one of my friends who works for the NYS DMV about this delay. She was unaware of the TVB’s practices, further contributing to their image as a rogue shadow splinter cell that exists within the states bureaucracy.

I got the email today. Today. I got the ticket nearly 20 days ago. I’m no mathematician, but that seems to be more than the threatening 15 day minimum. Foreseeing this delay, I thankfully dusted off my checkbook, and paid this by snail mail. Now let’s just hope they recognize it, as I always worry about the efficiency of blindly sending something and trusting the post office to deliver it.

But there is one more nagging thing that I have to deal with, and that’s the points. this infractions carries a 6 point penalty, which is very harsh. In NY, if you get 11 points within an 18 month period, you get an automatic suspension. So you better believe that im going to be taking a defensive driving course to lose 4 of those points, and help with any insurance issues that arise.

But I also learned something today. I don’t have to drive that fast. I was never a douche on the road; I never was a tailgater, or made unsafe lane changes. I let people merge in front of me, and I try to be courteous. But I do certainly prefer the left lane and have a lead foot. I think this is a good example of the system doing its job as I constantly remind myself to slow down to a reasonable speed, or risk losing my right to drive. But I am also saving gas, and being safer, which are also benefits. Did I just grow up? I think so.


Monday, July 16, 2012

Carmageddon, NY style and how to avoid it

This is it. Over the weekend, construction began on the inbound (east, into Bronx) side of the lower level of the George Washington Bridge (GWB). This construction is a Port Authority overhauling the half-Century old Alexander Hamilton Bridge, which was basically a bottleneck since it was built, and is the source of many a commuter headaches. This traffic is affecting the Cross Bronx (CBX) East, also known as 95 North. The westbound lanes will continue to crawl as before.

The $407 Million dollar construction project is expected to last three months, but as any Metro NY’er goes, this will likely go into the holidays. At any rate, when traffic significantly picks up again in September, it’s going to be a bigger mess. apparently shoulders are being added, so now if you have to change a tire or stall out, your chances of being run down by a gypsy cab are slightly less.

So it’s commuting day one of the construction, and so far reports are promising as the congestion is light inbound this morning. The upper level is apparently moving smoothly, and the lower level is crawling as it minimized down to one lane. I braved the ride in today, and im preparing for the worst on my ride home today.  This morning, I kissed my wife and Children goodbye, said I didn't know when i would be home, and prepared for the worst.  I am ready for a three hour ride home tonight. Its going to be hot, sticky, and full of road rage, but I wont know unless I try.

So what’s my next option? If this is as bad I think it’s going to be tonight, I am going to have to consider working from my company’s NY headquarters for the next few months, and embracing the LIRR. But here is some advice to how I think you can avoid the delays, which beat sleeping at the office. These apply mostly for commuters, but they can also work for those silly enough to try and cross the Hudson for weekend travel plans.


How to avoid the delays:

  • Mass Transit - NJ Transit, Path and LIRR all connect within Penn station. It’s actually quite easy to hop a LIRR train, arrive in the station, walk into the NJ transit terminal in Penn, and grab a North East corridor train to your destination, where you can hop on a shuttle, and reverse. Beware though, Secaucus Junction has no parking, and the NJT journey through the Amtrak controlled tunnels coming into Penn can have you sitting for up to 30 minutes as trains are shuffled. Also, keep in mind, NJT trains inbound to Penn average 20 minutes late, so plan your schedule as if trains will be late. And then be pleasantly surprised when they are on time.

  • ALWAYS TAKE THE UPPER LEVEL. While the wait at the tolls will be longer, the ride across the span and onto the CBX will be lighter overall.

  • From 95, try the lower level local approach, and then hop off into the upper level tolls at the last chance exit

  • Keep an eye on the Deegan – When the Deegan overflows, the lower level becomes more congested than the upper level. Pay special attention to not travel during Yankee games, as this will be gridlock.

  • Alternate Routes:

    • Routes 9&46 off of 95 is one of my favorites, and it drops you right on the ramp to the upper level. Access it through 95 express lane. Don’t be discouraged by the building traffic on the on-ramp to the road, this is normal, and thins out quickly. Just stay in the left lane the whole way to the upper level.

    • Lincoln Tunnel / Holland Tunnel - this is actually a pretty good option for most Jersey commuters, assuming you can drive in Manhattan. Certainly expect an uptick in traffic, and pay attention to street closures. Also, don’t assume your GPS will work in the city, where it doesn’t always have line of sight to the satellites. Plan your route out ahead of time.  But during weekends, this is likely your best option. Then take the FDR if you have to go North, or hit the Mid\tTown Tunnel for Long Island.

    • The Tappan Zee - this might be tempting, but don’t do it unless it’s a weekend and you have to go North of the city.. The traffic really sucks.

    • Goethals / Verrazano – (Exit 13) if you are coming from South Jersey, this is a good option for you. Just beware the Belt parkway, one of the most notorious traffic roads in the Northeast.

  • Don’t go near the bridge on Thursday night and Fridays - We know about the delays because it’s in the news. Consider the family from Virginia all packed into a minivan blindly following their GPS to the bridge, who go slowly as they try to figure what lane to be in, and accidently go into the EZ Pass lane when they have cash, etc... and multiply this by 10,000 cars. We all know Friday Afternoons are brutal on the bridges because of the weekenders. Call in Sick, work from home, telecommute from Starbucks, I don’t care, but you cant pay me enough to take this ride on a Thursday and Friday, as it will be minivans and cute-utes as far as the eye can see, with more road rage and breakdowns than you have ever seen.

Good luck, and Godspeed.