January 25, 2004

Snow hazards and removal

Yesterday's Ithaca Journal is filled with articles on the hazards of winter driving and the difficulties of snow removal. The longest, Deadly Highways: Blowing Snow, Unsafe Speeds Create Recipe for Tragedies, starts from a fatal accident last year on Route 13 in Dryden, and looks at what's been done and what could be done to help avoid such disasters, which have kept coming this year, with fatal accidents on 13 in Dryden on January 20th and 17th, one on 34B in Dryden on December 17th, and another on Route 34 in Lansing on January 19.

The article notes lots of suggestions, from snow fences to more patrolling and more plowing. The last two are already stretched, and it gets especially difficult to clear roads when temperatures get so low that salt is ineffective. Even with the resources, changing road conditions create challenges:

"The bottom line is everyday is a different situation," said Jack Bush, the Dryden highway superintendent. "It depends on if it's windy, if the sun comes out, what time it snows ..."

Sergeant John Beno, traffic supervisor of the New York State Police barracks in Sidney, suggested what seems the best approach given the circumstances:

"Because much of driving in the winter involves knowing the roads and the conditions likely to exist, driving slowly and cautiously on unfamiliar roads can help cut down on the number of accidents."

I think I'd extend that to familiar roads as well, especially in the case of Route 13 through Dryden where traffic is often fast and even in snowstorms some people seem to want to go as quickly as they think they can. That's part of why this comment from Bob Feak, a civil engineer at the state Department of Transportation, worries me:

"Route 13 used to be much worse before two improvement projects that widened the lanes and the shoulder."

Making 13 wider seems to make people think that they have more room in which to screw up, more time to recover - and they would have that, if they were actually driving at the same speeds. Unfortunately, people aren't that cautious. Having the State Police barracks visibly on 13 in that area probably does help, though I've still marveled at people passing in these conditions. Left turns remain a big problem in that area, as people have to stop or risk the less-plowed shoulder to get around turning vehicles, and the curves and hills don't always provide a lot of time for that, even when people are providing extra distance. The driveways make this an extra challenge, but I tend to find the intersections tougher. I'd like more statistics to back up his claim that these improvements make the road safer. No doubt they help traffic flow, but I have real doubts about whether they improve safety.

Feak's signage work, however, does at least give drivers better information about what they're about to encounter:

"We put them up for a reason, maybe it was an accident or just a bad intersection area," Feak said. "Something as simple as a curve or intersection ahead sign may be helpful in any weather."

I'd love to see variable speed limits, like they have on Interstate 90 in Washington states' Cascade Mountains, but somehow I doubt the county or the state have the cash at the moment for remotely adjustable speed limit signs.

A siren just went by on 366. I hope that it's for nothing particularly troubling.

In addition to the main article, yesterday's Journal offers stories on snow removal in Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo, list of recent fatalities, comments from local citizens, news of an accident on Route 13 in Cortland County that sent two Tompkins County residents to the hospital, a guest column on snow fences, two letters from Dryden residents (1 2) on winter hazards, and a new road condition alert system on the Ithaca Journal main site.

They also have a story of comments from local officials, including this one from Peter Messmer, the manager of the county Highway Division:

"If people would cut their speed in half, they can cut the distance they need to stop," Messmer said. "People should think nothing of going 30 to 35 miles per hour. You just can't screw around in snow and ice conditions."

Update: The Journal has corrected the original story. They also appear to have updated it in the online version of the story.

Posted by simon at January 25, 2004 10:20 AM in , , ,
Note on photos