I’ve been walking to work again. It feels fantastic to get out of the car and into the sunshine. The Albany Street Bridge over the Raritan River is four lanes of car and truck traffic, a pedestrian walkway on either side of the bridge and crazy intersections on either end. The time across the bridge is probably three minutes max, unless it’s rained and travelers negotiate thoroughfare. So long as no more than two people walk abreast or one person meets a cyclist on the bridge, it’s fine. Fortunately, a lot of people walk and bicycle across this bridge. Unfortunately, humans walk at different paces and today, someone without a bell on his bicycle pedaled right up behind me to pass me on my right. I almost clotheslined him by accident, and I only like to be violent on purpose.
On the other end of the bridge, the messy intersection is not just dangerous, it’s a completely foreseeable accident waiting to happen. Immediately in front of me is the ramp from Route 18 N to Route 27 N, where the driver manual for this state would suggest this ramp constitutes a lane of its own, and it should be, except some wiseass put a stop sign on a stick. A friend used to say, “Stop signs are for people who don’t know how to drive.” In this case, a number of bad things happen here structurally that are merely amusing and uncomfortable, compared with the other side of the highway, where I expect to see gravestones line the riverbank any day now. On 25 June, I wrote the NJDOT the following love note. Watch as I pretend to be a Normal Person*:
To Whom It Concerns:
I walk or bicycle between Highland Park and New Brunswick daily. Hundreds of people do, many of whom use the trains to travel on the Northeast Corridor line. During the Route 18 construction, the section of Route 27 passing under Route 18 has become a dangerous, dirty place to travel. There are three separate spots where travel is very bad.
1. The ramp where Route 18 northbound where it intersects with Route 27 south is great for drivers. Everyone on foot or bicycle is subject to unstable surfaces, bad angles and arbitrarily placed signs. This leads immediately to:
2. A single-file width channel of wildly uneven surface where foot and bicycle traffic fight road conditions and lose every. single. day. I cannot stress how much I dread passing through this fifty-foot gauntlet. Someone is going to get hurt here, if someone hasn’t already. It would seem logical to try the other side of Route 27, since I have to cross to get to work anyway but:
3. Where Route 27 north intersects with Route 18 and Johnson Drive, someone on foot or bicycle is going to get killed. That stretch of road is so dangerous I wouldn’t let my worst enemy out of the car there.**
I would be delighted to conduct a walking tour of this site, should the occasion arise. The construction has gone on a long time, and will continue for the rest of our natural lives, so it seems. These little matters do not generate the kind of attention five-car pileups do, but that doesn’t mean a badly designed pedestrian/cycle path can’t cause the same degree of injury or death. These are real situations faced by people every day. Some of them are reparable. At least one of them (#2) is EASILY reparable. I hope you will take into quick concern the people for whom you’re building those sidewalks that go nowhere and put safe sidewalks where people actually travel.
Thank you for your time and attention to this matter. I am certain I will be in contact with you again, possibly quite often.
I signed the name on my passport, sheesh! But there’s more: this intersection sits no more than 150 yards from the office of US Representative Frank Pallone, and in no way can the staff be unaware of this situation. I’m certain of this because, before I started the big push to move about two months ago, I called his office weekly to ask what Mr. Pallone was doing about it. At first, the staff was dismissive. Several calls later, I made them an offer: send a letter to the DOT before someone gets killed because afterward grandmothers will call CNN and say, “He never calls, he never writes, he chews with his mouth open and he fucking knew because I told him it would happen. You look thin! You should eat.”
That’s no threat. I’m simply not that kind of gal. On a daily basis, I see whole families walk under that bridge and women push baby carriages. A highway sign promises construction will begin next Monday but last week it promised repairs to start on the 8th. These signs must be regarded with feelings of hope and dread: one of the unnamed university’s urban planners told me confidentially her department had to have a talk with the NJDOT about not closing the bridge totally because religious people cross it daily to attend services. The DOT had no idea. If not for the devout, hundreds of people who cross this bridge every day on foot or bicycle for other reasons would be out of luck indefinitely. What the hell? This has been going on for years. Seriously: what the hell?
**And she is SUCH a bitch.