September 23, 2022

CARMAGEDON & THE CAMPAIGN

What the heck is going on with our highways… and why is nobody talking about it?

Did you know that 20,000 Americans died on our roadways in the first half of this year… and that that number has been increasing since the pandemic?  Have you noticed how aggressive drivers have become in the past year?  Or how much speeding is going on, unchallenged?


Why is traffic getting so bad, all day long, on our interstates and parkways?  Rush hour starts about 5:30 am and, with the exception of a lunchtime break, runs the full day and into the evening?  From Bridgeport to Greenwich it almost looks like LA.

Why are all these vehicles on the road, especially the commuters?  Why aren’t they on the train?  How do they tolerate those bumper-to-bumper conditions, every day?  No wonder they’re filled with rage!


We’re deep into the fall campaign season, yet “transportation” doesn’t seem to be getting much attention, at least not as much as in years past, despite this worsening situation.

Sure, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski delights in teasing incumbent Ned Lamont about his flip-flopping on tolls.  But remember, Stefanowski’s campaign manager is Patrick Sasser, creator of the hugely successful “No Tolls CT” grassroots group.  (I wonder who wrote that campaign webpage.)

But aside from those taunts, Stefanowski only makes one campaign promise about transportation:  that he’ll work to make sure every dollar in the Special Transportation Fund gets spent on transportation, not pensions.  Fair enough.  But there’s nothing on his website about our trains, our highways… no vision.

Contrast that with Ned Lamont who has been playing Santa Claus with federal grant dollars and, though unachievable, has been pushing his 30-30-30 dream of much, much faster trains on Metro-North.  Ambitious goal setting, if unachievable.

But where’s the discussion of our under-staffed, under-funded State Police?  Or the problems they and many PDs have had in hiring new recruits.  It’s almost a daily occurrence that people are shot on the street in our cities, often in broad daylight.  There was even a shooting near the capitol in Hartford.

If laws don’t get enforced and calls continue about “defunding the police”, are we really surprised that road rage grows exponentially, unchallenged?

Even Metro-North is beefing up a police presence, assigning MTA PD cops to ride our trains for the first time in my memory.  They didn’t send their officers to enforce the mask mandate during the pandemic, but now they can “show the colors” and at least make commuters feel safe as they return to commuting in record numbers.

I’m no knee-jerk “law and order” reactionary, but something must be done to restore civility and law enforcement to our roads and rails, for everyone’s sake.  Pedestrian deaths, highway fatalities and street shootings are just not acceptable and I hope every candidate this fall is challenged by you, the voters, to address these important issues.

September 15, 2022

NIMBYs & NOISE - A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a column about NIMBYs… the “not in my backyard” crowd that moves to a home near the train, airport or highway and then complains about the noise.

I received a very thoughtful reply from one reader which I’d like to share, in edited form, to give us all a different perspective on this issue of housing vs transportation:

“I write this as someone who lives 500 feet from the Waterbury (train) branch, who gets regularly blasted by the train whistle. The situation is not as simple as someone moved next to the train and then complained about it. Sometimes people make decisions to live somewhere based on what they can afford.

 

"I moved from Queens, NY to Connecticut in 1988 and spent the next 11 years renting rooms in people’s houses because that was all I could afford at the time. Some houses were on quiet streets. One was 500 feet from the Merritt Parkway, which was a steady “woosh”, but bearable, as it was almost like white noise.

 

"The worst highway situation was when I lived in Fairfield, 250 feet from I-95. This house is near the approach to the rest area, and truck drivers downshift with the resulting engine roar. The rent for a bedroom in the house was $250 per month in 1993, but as low as it was, I couldn’t take the noise any longer and eight months later, moved to a house in Stratford that was 1,000 feet away from Route 8, a bit noisy due to the concrete pavement at the time, but far quieter than living by I-95.

 

"I bought my condo (in Milford) in 1999 because that was what I could afford at the time, and I still live here because moving to a larger unit (hopefully in a quieter location) is out of my price range. When I bought it, I was vaguely aware that the railroad tracks were nearby, but that was not a factor in my purchase.

 

"My living room faces the train and I can see it pass by in the winter when the leaves are off the trees. My bedroom is shielded from direct view of the train because it faces a different direction and another building attached to mine is between my bedroom and the train, but the noise is still plenty loud.

 

"Prior to the recent schedule changes, the last train passed at 1:30 a.m. and the first one in the morning passed at 4:30 a.m. With the new trains on the schedule, those times are now 2:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m. My complex gets two sets of whistle blasts because we are between two crossings.

 

"While one could say that people knew the train (or highway) was here when we bought (or rented), I can also put forth the idea that the railroad needs to recognize that a neighborhood grew up around it and should do its best to be a good neighbor."

Sincerely,

Tom

Milford, Conn.

 

September 06, 2022

WHY CAN'T THEY ???

Simple problems require simple solutions.  And when it comes to solving our transportation woes, we consumers always wonder whey “they” can’t fix things quickly by doing what seems obvious and simple.  

Consider the following questions I’m often asked…

ABOUT OUR TRAINS:

Why can’t they make the bathrooms on the trains stink less?

Why can’t we have heat in the winter and AC in the summer, instead of vice versa?

Why can’t conductors enforce the MTA’s mask rules instead of hiding from passengers?

Why can’t they collect all tickets on the trains?

Why can’t the railroad treat us like valued customers instead of like cattle?

Why can’t we have competition among private carriers on commuter rail?

Why can’t we get the bar cars back?

Why can’t we have WiFi on our trains like Amtrak’s Acela?

Why can’t we get a rebate on our tickets when trains are late, service is cut or we can’t get a seat?

Why can’t they build more parking at the stations to cut the multi-year wait for annual parking permits?

Why can’t they put a map at every station showing the local businesses and how to get there without taking a cab?

Why can’t Metro-North enforce its “quiet cars” like Amtrak does?

Why can’t Hartford lawmakers all be required to ride Metro-North at rush hour for a week to know what their constituents endure all year?

Why can’t towns leave station waiting rooms open evenings and weekends, especially in cold weather?

Why can’t they improve security on our trains instead of making us do their job with “If you see something, say something”?

 

OUR HIGHWAYS:

Why can’t they get disabled vehicles off the road faster, avoiding back-ups?

Why can’t town police direct traffic when back-ups on I-95 send cars pouring onto the Post Road?

Why can’t they fix the overhead lights on I-95 so our highway is illuminated at night?

Why can’t they keep trucks off the Merritt Parkway?

Why can’t they ticket trucks for using “Jake Brakes”, down-shifting noisily?

Why can’t they keep the truck-inspection stations open 24 x 7?

Why can’t we get reasonably priced gas on highway service areas instead of having to get off the road and into local traffic?

 

WHEN FLYING:

Why can’t they give us a human-sized seat with legroom at a fair price?

Why can’t the FAA improve safety by making sure pilots and air traffic controllers are properly trained, rested and supervised?

Why can’t airlines be honest with us about delays instead of always saying “it’ll be another 20 minutes” over the course of hours?

Why can’t they seat families with screaming babies in their own section, away from me?

Why can’t I take a car service to the airport for less than the cost of my flight?

 

What questions would you add to our “Why can’t they” list?  Send them to me and I’ll try to get the answers and share them in future columns: CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com

 

YOU ARE THE TRAFFIC

Stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic the other day on I-95 I grumbled to myself “Where is all this traffic coming from?”   And then I remembere...