Why New Jersey Hates Cars
First off, let me state that although I am not a native New Jerseyian, in the 16 years I have lived here, I have come to enjoy it. (New Jersey is really more a state of mind than an actual physical place, although if you look at page 66 of my 2006 Rand-McNally atlas, you will indeed see a multicolored picture of a state claiming to be New Jersey.) But I digress.
The roads are not designed for cars in New Jersey. Have you heard of jughandles? No, those are not the protruding lumps of flab that stick out from your side, and I’m not talking ears. Jughandles are the way you turn left by going right in New Jersey. In other words, to make a left-hand turn, you must bear to the right on a curving road where you will just miss the green light to cross and therefore have to wait 10 minutes for it to change back to green.
Not a difficult concept to understand, and not a bad idea. The problem is that frequently, there are no jughandles and to turn left, you actually must ‘turn left’! This maddening lack of consistency causes you to have to straddle several lanes of traffic as you approach an intersection, until it becomes clear where you must go – whether to dart right to use a jughandle or shoot left to get into a left-turn lane. This causes many two-lane roads to become one-lane roads as drivers straddle both lanes in an attempt to keep their options open. Of course, if by some chance you cannot dart over to the right to use the jughandle and decide, ‘No biggie, I’ll just take the jughandle at the next intersection’, well, of course, the next intersection will have a left-turn lane which you will miss because you’re in the right-hand lane (behind a straddler) so you can get into the jughandle which isn’t there…. This could continue until you reach Bergen County or Delaware, depending upon your direction of travel.
Of course, you won’t know that you’re in Bergen County or Delaware because the signs indicating your location are probably faded to the point of obscurity. When I moved into the state, I wondered for months why they went to the trouble of hanging these large greenish-whitish boards next to the stoplights or on poles at intersections. Then a native told me they were the faded street signs. Oh.
Speaking of signs, New Jersey has a system of secondary roads that are maintained by each separate county (21 of them in NJ). These roads are marked by highly-visible dark blue signs with Gulden’s mustard-colored lettering, and they are approximately 12 inches by 12 inches in size and generally behind overgrown roadside vegetation. The Route numbers generally don’t show up on popular navigation sites such as MapQuest or Google Maps. The roads occasionally change route numbers when you cross a county line, and are more generally known by their street names (which also change). So, if you’re driving on Route 613 in Monroe, it will also be known more commonly as Spotswood-Englishtown Road in Spotswood or Devoe Avenue (also in Spotswood), depending on where you are. If you’re driving through Jamesburg and take a left onto County Route 612, it starts as Pergola and ends a few miles later as Matchaponix. Yet no one refers to it as Route 612! And while Beach Avenue in Cape May maintains it’s name on it’s entire length, because it is interrupted by erosion in the center, the part to the east is called West Beach Ave, while the part to the west is called plain old Beach Ave.
One of the major north-south roads in New Jersey is the Garden State Parkway. Being a Parkway, it is cars-only, no trucks. Umm, except for coach buses, which apparently are cars and not trucks. Except that they are extremely wide and the lanes on the GSP are slightly narrower than the norm (and your average full-size pick-up truck). Also, there are numerous bridges crossing the GSP, many of them an attractive stone-arched design. Of course, the height of the archway is tallest in the middle, so you can be cruising down the middle lane of the GSP at a leisurely 75, being passed like you’re standing still, when a bus blows by you. If you’re approaching one of these bridges, you need to immediately slow down as the bus will slew into your middle lane to ensure it will clear the bridge. Since you’re struggling to just stay in your lane because of the wake turbulence generated by the bus, it’s usually not an issue.
It is apparently a statute that all new developments in New Jersey have curbs made from Belgian block, which is a rough squared-off stone intended to decorate the side of the road and provide multiple, daily opportunities to shred tires and wheels. No other area I have lived in has as much of this miserable stuff. Having personally holed a tire when parking (albeit badly) at a doctor’s office, I can attest for the dangers inherent in Belgian block curbing. All four of the wheels on my Audi are marked, to various degrees, by their encounters with the curbs around the state. Because they even use it at the end of the driveway, I have a 3-inch lip that I have to negotiate just to park in my driveway (which I generally do looking over my shoulder to see if the neighborhood teens are screaming around the corner in their riced-up Civics as I inch my way over the lip).
Have you ever gassed-up in New Jersey? No, I’m not talking about the late, great Dayton Diner but our filling station industry. You know, the ones where you’re never allowed to pump your own gas? Admittedly, when it’s 10 degrees and the wind is howling, it’s certainly a benefit. But mostly it’s a curse to those of us that don’t like the sides of our cars stained and paint peeling from overflows and drips of gasoline from ham-handed pump jockeys. Or asking for premium and getting a tank full of regular rot-gut and having to live with the mistake through 350 rough-running miles. Or wondering why exactly they need your credit card when they start pumping, if not to run off 73 copies of illegal cards now sporting your credit card number.
One of the most exciting aspects of driving in New Jersey is the new driver’s road test. This is done on a road course set up next to specific Motor Vehicle Commission offices. The potential driver gets to navigate this road course with an evaluator sitting in the passenger’s seat, while the parent paces up and down on the walkway outside the test building, watching this process proceed, muttering under his breath ‘Use your blinker, use your blinker!’ ‘Slow down!’ Look both ways at the stop sign!’ And finally, the parallel parking! ‘Cut the wheel! Cut the wheel! Now the other way! No! NO! Too sharp an angle! Arghhh!’ I’m sure they have a defibrillator on site.
New Jersey is a wonderful place to live and visit, as long as you don’t have to drive here.