HAVE SOME TRAFFIC WITH YOUR COMMUTE

Burlington County Times, April 9, 2001

I drive back-and-forth every day between Marlton and Philadelphia on the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge. I’ve always had the feeling that it takes the same amount time to drive the seven miles from the base of the bridge south on Rte. 73 to Fellowship Road as it does the one-mile from Fellowship to Church Road. So I decided to test my hypothesis.

I was wrong. It takes longer.

On night one, it took me nine minutes to travel the seven miles. It then took me 11 minutes to drive the next mile. (It would have taken me less than nine minutes, but I hit a couple of red lights. If they’d been yellow, I could have gone through them, and it would have taken seven minutes. And, yes, I know that the speed limit is 50 mph. But, hey, this is Jersey, where “speed limit” means “minimum speed” and a yellow light means “step on it.”)

On night two, it took me 10 minutes to drive seven miles, but that was because the back-up began ½ a mile further north than night one. The next mile went quicker though – only seven minutes. The entire trip was a whole minute shorter.

On night three, the drive was back to normal: 11 minutes for seven miles (every light was red); 12 minutes for one mile. At 23 minutes, it was my longest trip so far.

On night four, I heard the dreaded words on the traffic report: “Route 73 south is slow from Waverly to Church.” Whenever the traffic on 73 is so bad that it makes the traffic report, then “slow” is an understatement. “Comatose” or “moribund” would be more accurate. I decided three nights was plenty to devote to scientific research and it would be quicker to cut through Moorestown instead. . Besides, the houses along Riverton Road are a lot nicer to look at than the gas stations, fast food restaurants, and pay-by-the-hour motels on Rte. 73.

I should mention that I’ve had a driver’s license in three different states. I learned to drive 35 years ago in Massachusetts, where drivers are physically incapable of seeing lane markers, and turn signals are for wimps. The rotaries – known in NJ as circles – are worse than here because they pop up in unexpected areas, like residential neighborhoods.

Then I didn’t have a car or drive for ten years. After I moved out of Center City Philadelphia, however, and needed a car, I decided I’d better take a refresher course through AAA before applying for a PA license. The most valuable lesson I took was “How to Get on and off the Schuykill Expressway without Being Featured on the Evening News.” PA drivers, I quickly learned, are tailgaters – as in “speeders who drive too closely to other cars, especially in the right lane of the Schuykill,” not as in “let’s party in the parking lot of the Vet.”

For the past 20 years, I’ve been that paradigm of recklessness, the Jersey driver. MA drivers are still the worst, but NJ is a close (as in tailgating) second. Who has the right of way in a circle? The driver with the biggest car, most nerve, and best automobile insurance. Traffic moving too slowly? That’s why we have shoulders on the sides of the roads. Traffic laws are suggestions.

But back to the traffic dilemma. I’m still trying to figure out why it takes so much longer to drive one mile than seven. Part of the problem, of course, is that Rte. 295 and the NJ Turnpike both have exits at Rte. 73, dumping more cars onto the road. Another problem seems to be jurisdictional: while Rte. 73 is a State road, the side streets are under the control either of the County (Church Road, for example) or the local townships. Rte. 73 from the Tacony-Palmyra to the Marlton Circle passes through two counties (Camden and Burlington) and at least six towns (Palmyra, Pennsaukan, Cinaminnson, Maple Shade, Mount Laurel, and Evesham).

It’s not a new problem. I’ve been hearing about possible solutions (overpasses, underpasses, eliminate the circles, add extra lanes) for years. So far, the only changes I’ve noticed have been the elimination of some circles (including the Medford Circle) and the addition of a light at the hazardous left turn onto Church Road. But the Marlton Circle at, you guessed it, Rte. 73 is still there, although it is slated for demolition as soon as they decide if they want to eliminate long-time businesses through a series of jug handles or an overpass.

It seems that every time there’s a complaint about the traffic conditions, the State (or the County or the towns) announce a study. It’s very simple to conduct the study. Just try to drive south on Rte. 73. It will quickly become evident that something needs to be done. And soon – the traffic is only going to increase as more and more housing developments are built north of Rte. 70, which is outside the Pine Lands, along with more and more businesses and shopping centers along the few open parcels of land on Rte. 73 just south of the Marlton Circle.

Actually, something has been done. During her last days as governor, Christie Whitman signed into law a bill co-sponsored by Assemblyman Herb Conaway Jr., D-7th of Burlington City. Police departments will no longer be allowed to set quotas for traffic tickets. So we’ll be able to drive even faster – assuming we can drive at all.

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