One morning four years ago, I missed my train heading in to work.
I had just come back from a fun five-day trip in Miami, and needless to say, I was having a hard time getting out of bed.
While I hadn’t left my house excessively late that morning, it was late enough that I knew I would probably end up stuck trying to make a left turn into the train station. Increased ridership and heavier traffic due to development in the area had led to a left-turn line that had grown consistently over the course of the three years I had been commuting by train. It had become nearly impossible to turn into the station on a green light, with only a few vehicles being able to turn on an amber signal.
I can tell you, there is nothing more frustrating than watching the train pull into the station while sitting in that left-turn queue! I mean, it’s one thing getting stuck in traffic some ways away, and getting to the station five minutes after the train departs. But when you’re right there – so, so very close – watching the train pull in… well, UGH!!!
If you’re like me, you know that sometimes these moments turn into anger. I wanted to blame the traffic light and the people controlling it for me missing the train that morning. Really, I was angry at myself for leaving the house late.
My frustration that morning though was enough for me to ask myself, “What could be done to make this intersection function better?”
I had been frustrated for some time with this intersection. Every morning I left the house, I’d wonder if that stupid line would be so stupidly long again. It was a point of anxiety for me and for other commuters at the train station.
That day, I decided to take action.
I did some research online and found the municipality responsible for the intersection. I found the appropriate department and contact information and I fired off an email.
Like most places of business, I received an automated response telling me that I’d hear back from someone in three business days. Those three business days turned into a week, that week turned into weeks, weeks turned into a month, and finally almost two months later, I received a response…
Municipality email: “This is in response to your concern regarding the above captioned issue.”
My reaction: “It’s about damn time!”
Municipality email: “Staff have completed the necessary studies and we offer the following comments.”
My reaction: “Huh? Studies completed already?”
Municipality email: “Although the volume of westbound left turning vehicles was not considered to be excessive, it was noted that long vehicle queues, at times, backed up past the westbound left turn storage lane blocking the westbound through lane.”
My reaction: “Mmmmhmmm…”
Municipality email: “The results indicate that a better level of service of operation for westbound left turn movement and the intersection as a whole could be achieved by adding a westbound left turn phase.”
My reaction: “OH! OH!”
Municipality email: “Based on the above information, we will implement a westbound advance left turn phase at the intersection.”
My reaction: “What?!?” as I ran out of my office jumping up and down telling any co-worker that would listen that “I effected change!”
The left-turn advance signal was implemented six weeks after I received the municipality’s response. Vehicles move through the intersection with much greater ease and there’s a whole lot less traffic congestion and anxiety getting to the train station.
This became something of a touchstone moment for me, because it helped me to see that taking action can create a positive change in the community. The left-turn advance was going to make all our lives a little easier (even if in just the tiniest sense).
What I also learned through this experience is that effecting change is not just about speaking out and taking action – it’s more about how we do so. This will be the subject of my next post.
Stay tuned for the final part of Be the Change.