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Long IslandTransportation

Goodbye, August traffic: It's back to school on roads, too.

Traffic on the Northern State Parkway at Exit

Traffic on the Northern State Parkway at Exit 36 with eastbound vehicles on the right in August 2018. Credit: Howard Schnapp

For Long Islanders on the roads this week, the unofficial end of summer may feel cruel in more ways than one.

Not only is it back to work after a long weekend, but thousands of parents, students and teachers join them on their commute. As drivers take to the roads this week, experts urge caution and patience.

Last week, Gary Angelino, 63, who takes the Long Island Expressway from his home in Plainview to his job as a parts manager for a construction company in Maspeth, Queens, was dreading the expected congestion on his commute. 

"I'm not looking forward to it," he said. "When school is open, going 30 miles from point A to point B is a two-hour commute."

His fears were confirmed when he returned to work on Tuesday: Not only did it appear to him there were more cars on the road, he said it took him an additional 40 minutes to get to work. 

See traffic before and after Labor Day in Syosset

Neither the state Department of Transportation nor AAA track the number of daily cars on the road. The DOT tracks volume for road segments annually, and AAA tracks the number of cars for big holidays, like July Fourth, but not at other times, like pre- and post-Labor Day.

Still, AAA Northeast spokesman Robert Sinclair said the organization recently launched its annual "School's Open, Drive Carefully" campaign, which aims to alert drivers to increased hazards come September. Sinclair said the typically quiet month of August — when many take vacations — might compound the issue.

"Drivers get accustomed to some more freewheeling attitudes on the road when traffic is less, and then there's this quick, rapid shift," he said. "This campaign has been in its 74th year and we've recognized for a long time this adjustment needs to be made."

Sinclair said anecdotally that he's seen an increase in his own commute. Driving from Astoria, Queens, to Garden City during the summer takes him about an hour, but it dropped as low as 40 minutes in the week or two before Labor Day, he said. 

See traffic before and after Labor Day in Dix Hills

Angelino said his commute, too, was easier in the last weeks of August, sometimes around 45 minutes. It's always a surprise when it skyrockets in September.

"Only one accident will back everything up," he said.

In Nassau, Queens and Brooklyn, the number of vehicle collisions drops slightly in August and then returns to average levels in September, according to state accident data from the Department of Motor Vehicles. 

In 2016, the most recent confirmed data set, Nassau saw crashes dip from 2,805 in July to 2,694 in August, then rise for September to 2,787. Nassau numbers have followed the same pattern for the past five years, including a dip in crashes between July and August 2017, according to preliminary data. Brooklyn and Queens also followed that pattern.

Over the past five years in Suffolk, August crashes took a small dip in 2013, 2015 and 2017. 

Suffolk Chief of Patrol Bob Brown also said safety is a concern — not just because of increased cars but also because of more pedestrians.

"It's the people who have no kids, who aren't dialed into 'Hey, we have to be more careful with all these extra cars and buses with kids,'" he said. "You've got kids walking around on their cellphones, kids walking to bus stops."

Suffolk County police said their precincts are organizing staff to accommodate the transition, including redirecting speed enforcement officers to areas near schools and high crash areas. The department also typically handles school bus enforcement patrols and safety programs, though those come later in the year.

State Police also said Tuesday they would be stepping up patrols near schools to watch for drivers speeding and passing stopped school buses.

"Drivers have to know there's going to be a lot more traffic and we have to make an adjustment in our attitudes," Sinclair said.

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