My Northway Commute

What a nightmare. I drove to work on I-87, the Adirondack Northway, last week. I got on at exit 14 in Saratoga Springs and got off at exit 6 near the Albany airport.  I was working at a company on British-American Boulevard off of Route 7 in Latham.

I haven’t had to use the Northway to commute to work in quite a few years. In fact, the last time I used it to get to work was in 2000 when I lived near exit 8 and worked for Verizon at 158 State Street in Albany, across from the State Capitol.

I was amazed at how many cars had only one person in them. In the five days that I drove on the Northway, I only saw one car with two people or more in it on the way to work. Doesn’t anybody carpool? With the price of gasoline so high and the Great Recession gripping the country for the past year, I didn’t expect to find traffic as usual on the Northway. Now, I didn’t look into every car going by. I was too busy keeping an eye on the car in front of me, but in the cars going by that I could see into safely, I only saw one car with more than one person. That just seems pretty ridiculous to me.

I think I saw one bus too. I know that there must be more buses somewhere, but I only saw one. Maybe it was just the time I was commuting. I left my house around 6:55 am to be at work in Latham by 8:00 am.

There has got to be a better way. I still can’t understand how the Northway comes to a complete halt around exits 9, 8A and 8. I know that there are a lot of cars entering the roadway at 9, 8A and 8, but they are entering the right hand lane. Why doesn’t the left lane and center lane keep moving?

I’m assuming that since I am stopped and all the cars that I can see in front of me are stopped, that some car ahead of me that I can’t see and is “leading the pack” down the Northway, has come to a complete stop. Why? How can that be?

There are no traffic lights, stop signs, yield signs, pedestrian crossings, or anything else to cause a car to come to a complete stop. It just doesn’t make sense.

I would love to spend a morning in a helicopter and look down on “the mess.” Maybe then I could get a better understanding of what is happening. I have heard that the twin bridges crossing the Mohawk river present some sort of an optical illusion to some drivers. That could explain some of the slow down. I also know from experience that there is a hill after crossing the Mohawk and that most cars lose speed going up the hill because their drivers fail to accelerate to compensate.

I have come to the conclusion that it is just incompetent drivers causing the problem. People who, among a lot of other things, won’t keep right and pass left. Some will just sit in the left hand lane, not passing anyone and clogging traffic. People who can’t be bothered to use a turn signal. People who still talk on their cell phones while driving.

Here is a link to the website of the Car Talk guys that you have probably heard on the radio. Their website has a wealth of information about why you should not talk on the phone, hands-free or not, while you are driving a car. It’s incredibly dangerous.

I was also surpised at how fast people were driving.  The speed limit is 65. If you drive 65, even in the right hand lane, people are whizzing by you at 75, 80 or 85 miles an hour. What’s the rush? Seventy is a nice comfortable speed. Your chance of having an accident at 75 and 80 miles per hour is greater and the higher speed makes the results of the accident deadlier. Slow down and live.

I thought by now, near the end of the first decade of the 21st century, that more employers would allow more employees to work from home. If people could work from home two days a week, that would cut down on traffic on the Northway by 40% on any given day.  No more painfully slow, stressful commute.

There would be less stress, less accidents and theoretically, cheaper insurance rates because you are driving your car fewer miles. You would spend a lot less money on gasoline and wear and tear on cars. Even if the price of gasoline is high, you won’t need to buy as much. I drive an old Honda Accord. My commute was 39 miles each way. I burned quite a bit of fuel to get back and forth. The job that I was doing was hands on. I was physically connecting and disconnecting equipment. It wasn’t something that I could do from home.

Many people work on a computer when they get to work. With broadband cable or DSL, inexpensive computers and cheap phone calls, you should be able to do the same job working from home. Everybody wins. If you want, for $50 you can setup a camera on your computer so your boss can actually see and talk to you when it is necessary.

If you are carpooling to work, I would love to hear how you got started.

If you are working from home a few days a week instead of going into an office everyday, I would love to hear about how you got started doing that.

If you are taking the bus, I’d like to hear about your experience too. Maybe your story can inspire someone else to carpool, work from home, or take the bus to work..

8 Responses to “My Northway Commute”

  1. judy doonan says:

    I travel extensively for work as you know and I have noticed the same things you have for the most part. Although the autos I see on the thruway generally have more than one person in them because many people are traveling for pleasure, everyone talks on their cell phones and heaven forbid you do the speed limit! I tried an experiment last week coming home from the western part of the state. I stayed in the far right lane the entire time except to let traffic entering get on safely. Back to the right hand lane, cruise control on 65. I was tailgated almostthe whole way and was especially dismayed at the semis who followed way too close for comfort. They couldn’t wait to pass me and I began to feel very unsafe doing the speed limit.

  2. John Tedder says:

    The New York State Police should give out more tickets for talking on a cell phone and tailgating.

  3. Patrick Krisak says:

    Check out Tom Vanerbilt’s book Traffic. It offers good insights into the way we drive. There is a review here http://www.slate.com/id/2198494/ as well as some excerpts from the book if you search for him on Slate. And his blog is here: http://www.howwedrive.com/

  4. John Tedder says:

    Thanks Patrick. I will check it out.

  5. Mari Watkins says:

    I wonder how many people were in your car? I only commute to “work” one day a week {seling at the Farmers Market” but have been concerned about my own fuel/ roadway use. All change starts with self.

  6. John Tedder says:

    Mari, I was the only person in my car. It was a one week assignment and I didn’t know anybody who worked at that company. I am starting a project that is going to be several months long and I already now someone who lives in my “neighborhood” and works across the street from where I will be working. I have met this person previously, but it was another friend of mine who pointed out that I might be able to car pool with them. I try to combine trips to the store and things like that too.

    I like to think that writing a story and talking about car pooling is at least putting the thought in the minds of some other people. Thank you for taking the time to comment. I appreciate it.

  7. wagelaborer says:

    That’s pretty funny.

    Years ago, when I lived in San Jose, a Stanford student published an essay in the Mercury News pondering the traffic problem there.

    His theory was that there were old people at the front of the line driving too slowly.

    My husband and I have laughed about this for years, every time we’re in traffic.

    We say, “Must be those old people, getting up everyday to drive very slowly in front of the traffic”.

    Try an experiment. Pick up some sand and then dump it out of your hand.

    Now pick up some sand and put it through a funnel. Same amount. Takes longer, doesn’t it?

    The problem is that their are too many cars. Not enough public transportation. Too many people living too far from work. Etc.

  8. John Tedder says:

    I suspect that a lot more people could carpool with just a little bit of effort. The work-from-home idea is an idea whose time has come. It should be patriotic to carpool or work from home. Thanks for commenting.

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