You traverse a bridge over the Erie Canal to escape North Tonawanda into the safe clutches of home, the City of Tonawanda. Escaping Niagara County into Erie County is akin to escaping France into Germany: the smell is your first indicator that there is, indeed, order in this chaotic world. Nevertheless, an under-regulated intersection confronts you in City of Tonawanda, a test to see if you are worthy of entering the ordered paradise of this one mile-squared municipality in lovely Western New York.
Straight ahead is uptown, via Seymour Street. Left on Niagara Street takes you downtown, while turning right takes you up the Niagara River to the Town of Tonawanda, which harbors the Tonawanda Coke, Tonawanda Axle, DuPont, and Dunlop manufacturing plants, along with a handful of Federally Designated Brownfields.
The under-regulated intersection is just that: a traffic signal for eight lanes of traffic, two in each direction, no left turn signal for the Tonawanda-North Tonawanda traffic, nor any designated left-turn or right-turn lanes. Seymour quickly merges the right lane into the left lane; every man for himself. A pattern has developed; like a tidal flow, it has two parts.
1) During the regular part of the weekday, going from North Tonawanda into City of Tonawanda, the left lane is for left turns onto Niagara and traffic through to Seymour. The right lane is reserved for those turning right.
2) During rush hours, the left turn lane is strictly for left turns onto Niagara. The right lane becomes for right turns onto Niagara and traffic through to Seymour.
These are unwritten rules, not indicated by sign, signal, nor directional arrow; we all know the rules because they make perfect sense. 1) Left turns during light traffic don’t hold you up too terribly long. Using the right lane to go straight clogs up right-turning traffic behind you during red lights; 2) Left-turns during rush hour traffic are hopeless, but some unlucky few must get downtown, and no one can be angry about that, now can they? We’ll share the right lane for a little while; otherwise no one will ever make it uptown.
On a rare occasion, a tourist, teenager, or jackass fouls up the works, and these exceptions prove the rule. We all just know the lane assignments. I can’t remember, in ten years of living here, traversing that same intersection, a single traffic accident.
Less regulation equals friendly self-regulated intersections, even in something involving so many people in a relatively complex operation. I mean, rush hour traffic, right?
3 thoughts on “Spontaneous Order at the Corner of Seymour and Niagara Streets”
This is widely supported by many traffic studies. There’s an optimal level of traffic regulation, but it’s much, much lower than most traffic planners seem to realize.
Does it have an application to other walks of life? Or drives of life, if you will…
Of course. Too many to list.