20 Aug 2014
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Three Lanes Make Me Look Slow; Two Lanes Just Make Me Look Old

Morris Avenue's recent re-striping has not changed one resident's driving habits.

Three Lanes Make Me Look Slow; Two Lanes Just Make Me Look Old Three Lanes Make Me Look Slow; Two Lanes Just Make Me Look Old

Morris Avenue is one of my favorite streets in Morristown. It runs past our most notable landmark, Washington's Headquarters. And beyond that, it's a nice, tree-lined street with some big, old houses (with big, old property taxes), just under a half-mile in length from the bridge over Route 287 to its end.

Just a few short months ago, Morris Avenue was a three-lane, one-way road posted at 25 mph. And where all three lanes of Morris Avenue ended, each lane became another road. The left lane looped you back around onto Lafayette Avenue to head back into town, the middle lane turned into Whippany Road and the right lane turned into Columbia Road/Turnpike.

Recently, Morris Avenue underwent a transformation of the "traffic calming" kind to rid itself of "traffic upset." So why and how could such a pretty and short little 25 mph street need traffic calming?

Let's first consider the main arteries that feed on to Morris Avenue: we would either be coming out of Morristown, through umpteen traffic lights, or off Route 287, which, on any given day, could be fine or a nightmare. So we are now out of town, off the highway and what lies before us is—or was—a beautiful thing: Morris Avenue, a three-lane scenic Autobahn, if you will. And from the light at the end of Morris Street, Morris Avenue appeared to have no end. Because of all the directions it veered off into, it created a mirage of three traffic-lightless lanes that went on forever.

Embarking on those three lanes was like eating a Peppermint Patty, a rush of open space and no lights. Although signs are posted saying the road is 25 mph, suffice it to say every driver on the road (except for me, and maybe four other people) treat that guidance like a museum admission--a suggested speed limit only. Drivers changing lanes and passing, eager and driven to be first. With three lanes to do it and only four-tenths of a mile before each lane ended, it was fast and furious.

And no doubt, over time, the residents got fed up, and rightfully so. They pay good money to live on a traffic free-for-all, and the town stepped in to calm the residents, er, traffic, changing three lanes into two with some new line-painting. So now we have two wide lanes and big shoulders. My commute from home to work puts me on Whippany Road, so before the change, I was a Morris Avenue "middle-laner" who always did the 25 mph. Not because I don't sometimes speed, but I simply could not speed on this little half-mile stretch from light to light.

Why? Well, the reason is a traffic light that I have come to think of as the Great Equalizer. Whether you drive the speed limit on Morris Avenue or bear down on me, get a read on my shirt size, then angrily jerk your car out from behind me and pass in a sonic boom, I am going to meet you, about 3.5 seconds later, where you will be stopped at the red light — a.k.a. the Great Equalizer — where you will feel silly.

If speeding down Morris Avenue meant I would enter some wormhole and emerge at work before I actually left my house, I too would speed. But speeding here will get us one of two things: a ticket, or to the next red light 3.5 seconds before me. It's simply not worth the former, and it's the reason why I must do 25 mph on Morris Avenue: going faster will get me nowhere.

And now, I sorely miss that third lane. Back when Morris Avenue was three lanes, the 40s and 50s could pass me on the left, on the right — either way, I was eating dust and making the speeders feel superior. I had purpose and no fear of getting a ticket. But now, I am the person in the left lane doing 25 mph. And I really don't need to say anything about the person who does the speed limit in the left lane, it's all been said in profane tirades, Facebook hate pages, comediennes — everyone hates us. I know. Plus it just makes me look old.

So, in conclusion, are two lanes better than three? For 60 seconds a day, at least, I am holding up a substantial line of traffic. So, yes, the residents are, er, the traffic is now calmer.

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